Boonville Breathes Life into Thanksgiving Tradition
BOONVILLE - Checks and food donations started pouring in Friday to support the Stein Houses's seventh-annual free Thanksgiving dinner. Economic hardships left the dinner with an uncertain future this year. The dinner has brought out hundreds each year, many who would otherwise have no place to go.
For the past six years, the Stein House has provided a free Thanksgiving dinner. Last year, it was able to feed nearly 800 people, also delivering meals homes.
In the past, Stein House co-owners Jeff Lueck and Tim Parish fronted the cost for the dinner, then waited for donations to roll in afterwards. But last year was the first year the pair broke even. The combination of fewer people eating out, slower business, and the cost of electricity needed whether they're making one meal or 100, led the owners to question their ability to host the dinner. They're considering setting up a special account so people can donate year-round anonymously.
"Last year I had an anonymous donor that gave us a $1,000 check. They said they had been blessed and came down and said don't tell anybody, we don't want anybody to know," Lueck said.
Lueck said the community members don't want special recognition. They just want to help.
Not all donations were large, but if you ask Lueck, sometimes it's the smallest gestures that make the most impact. One woman brought in an $18 turkey."She doesn't have a lot of funds available. She's not what they call a 'rich person,' but she went out and got this because she wants to share with the community. It's just overwhelming," Lueck said.
When Parish's mother past away, it inspired the men to provide a free Thanksgiving dinner in her honor.
Lueck moved from Minneapolis and has spent 15 years in Boonville. He was shaken up by how quickly the amount of support poured in.
A single call to local radio station KWRT is what sparked the close-knit community to unite for the cause. Morning show host Dane Gregg said the station had heard nothing about the dinner being canceled until someone called in Thursday. Twenty-four hours later, when Gregg mentioned it on his show, he said the calls starting coming in immediately--approximately 15 calls in a matter of a couple hours. People were donating everything from $10 to $100.
Gregg has lived in Boonville since he was 10 years old. After leaving to join the service, he returned with a newfound attachment to the town.
"You couldn't blown me out of this town with a cannon. I just love the people of this town and the spirit of this town. It's amazing."
He also feels a commitment.
"It's my job to be the mouth, I can be the mouth of the community because I'm that part of the body. The rest of the community is the heart and the soul and the brain. If I can just be a part of all the great things that happen, I feel blessed," Gregg said.
As of Friday, Lueck said that he still has time to get the meal together if more donations keep coming in. He said it looks like he won't have much to worry about. After the radio announcement, Lueck found people knocking at the restaurant's back door, waving checks in his face. In a matter of three hours, he received $325, just from people stopping in.
Bringing support, brought up emotion.
"It brought tears to my eyes. I can talk now, but I got choked up," Lueck said.