The Tripps are two of hundreds of local residents who eat hearty Thanksgiving meals at the Elks Lodge, 111 W. 19th, where the event is set to take place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., pick up meals, or have them delivered to their homes on the holiday. This is the 14th year the event has been hosted by local resident Marjorie Schwalm.
"It's been an enjoyable thing," Tripp said. "It's a social event; there's no two ways about it."
Ray said he and his wife participate each year for several reasons.
"It's an annual event, and about as good a home-cooked meal as you can buy anywhere," he said. "A lot of people are very social; you see a lot of people you haven't seen all year. We enjoy it."
The Tripps became involved with the repast years ago when Schwalm used to deliver their mail and the couple often left a donation for the dinner in their mailbox.
"Marjorie was our mail carrier and she had our rural mail route; that's how it all started," Ray said. "When we first saw notice of it in the paper, because we didn't get to talk to her every time she brought the mail, we'd leave a check in the mailbox. Even if we didn't get to go, we left a check. We still do."
Schwalm said Tripp contacts her every year prior to the dinner.
"Ray always calls me to make sure I'm doing the dinner," she said. "He picks up food ... every year since I started."
Ray said he usually takes the meals home, but he and his wife sometimes stay to visit and eat, depending on the circumstances.
Schwalm said she has already taken more than 100 delivery orders the last few days as she has begun making advance preparations for the dinner.
She'll have about 10-15 drivers taking several meals at a time on deliveries before meals are served to the public.
About 700 people were served last year, the most since Schwalm began organizing the event, and she anticipates feeding hundreds of hungry mouths again this year.
"We had between 650 and 700 (meals)," she said. "At least half were deliveries. Several families picked up their meals there, too. Last year was the most dinners we had seen. I see no reason to believe the numbers will be smaller this year."
Schwalm and her family, along with several friends and dozens of volunteers, spend hours each year working to organize the event. Much of the money used to put the dinner together comes from free-will donations.
"The small kitchen at the Elks is pretty full and busy for several hours," she said. "I've been blessed with a lot of friends who do whatever I need them to do."
Schwalm said there are not many changes to the event this year, other than the fact that she is "breaking in a new kitchen staff."
"Everything else is basically the same," she said. "All the delivered orders are out before we start serving the public."
Schwalm said she is "very grateful" for the assistance of the Community Christian Church, which furnishes the desserts; Parkway Church of God, which offers dinner rolls; and Mercy Hospital, which donates supplies for potatoes and stuffing. The Elks Lodge provides smoked turkeys.
"We get some financial donations to help pay for it," she said. "We ask for no money, but donations help pay for it and make it possible for us to continue doing this," she said.
Schwalm said the gathering has continued to grow over the years from the first event she organized which drew about 100 people.
"My son tells me I've created a monster," she joked.
When the event began years ago, it was designed for local people who could not afford to cook a Thanksgiving dinner of their own, but it has since been opened to anyone in the community.
"A lot of people simply don't have anywhere to go, they've been by themselves," she said. "This gives them a chance to be out and with other people and visit. Some are older couples and have kids that are grown and not home; some people say it's just their tradition. It's a place for people to go on Thanksgiving, period. And they don't have to cook at home."
The feast includes turkey and noodles, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, stuffing, dinner rolls, desserts and drinks.