Rochester’s Salvation Army carved Thanksgiving turkey Thursday amid a larger season of giving.

After a COVID-driven hiatus, the traditional meal, complete with eight 20-pound turkeys, all the fixing and 31 pies, returned to the downtown Social Services Center, 115 First Ave. NE, for anyone wanting food and fellowship.

By noon, approximately 100 people filled the 144 seats set up, with plans to continue serving until 1 p.m.

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“It’s nice to be around people,” Rochester resident Joe Stancl said as he waited to be served shortly after 11:30 a.m.

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He said he’s been a regular for the holiday meals and missed not being able to gather with other people last year.

Maj. Lisa Mueller of the Salvation Army greets Thanksgiving dinner guests Thursday at the organization's Social Services Center. (Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin)
Maj. Lisa Mueller of the Salvation Army greets Thanksgiving dinner guests Thursday at the organization's Social Services Center. (Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin)

Maj. Lisa Mueller, corps officer of The Salvation Army in Rochester, said it was good to see the return of the holiday meal, which is provided with donated food and money, along with the work of 20 volunteers who ran food to the waiting guests.

“We had a waiting list for volunteers this year,” she said, noting the community has a giving spirit.

With an uptick in people seeking Salvation Army services, she said, that spirit is needed.

The organization's Social Services Center had been averaging 70 unique visitors a day earlier this year, but Mueller said the numbers have risen in recent weeks, topping 100 on occasion.

“It’s been a while since we’d seen people in the 100s,” she said, adding that the social services programs are also seeing an increase in the number of families seeking support.

Approximately 100 people arrived in the first 30 minutes Thursday for a full Thanksgiving dinner served a the Rochester Salvation Army's Social Services Center. Volunteers planned to serve meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin)
Approximately 100 people arrived in the first 30 minutes Thursday for a full Thanksgiving dinner served a the Rochester Salvation Army's Social Services Center. Volunteers planned to serve meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin)

While some people might believe that COVID-19 is waning, Mueller said the effects continue for many struggling individuals and families.

She said she hopes the giving spirit seen last year will continue into this holiday season.

Mueller’s husband, Maj. Robert Mueller, said the organization raised $1.36 million last year during the Christmas fundraising season, and its goal is $1.25 million this year.

With a $3 million annual operating budget, he said a large portion of local Salvation Army services are funded through holiday donations, which includes money put in the red kettles, as well as direct donations from individuals, businesses and other organizations.

Last year’s kettle donations dropped to $240,000, partly due to a 50% reduction in willing ringers, but Robert Mueller said numbers are bouncing back, with an increase in volunteer hours already reported.

He said this year’s goal is $300,000, which he expects to be boosted by a pair of matching donations next month.

Think Bank plans a match up to $10,000 for donations on Dec. 16, and Mayo Clinic has committed to matching at least $20,000 in Dec. 17 and Dec. 18 kettle donations.

Volunteer Berfin Kaya serves coffee to Rochester's joe Stancl during the Salvation Army's Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday at the organization's Social Services Center. (Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin)
Volunteer Berfin Kaya serves coffee to Rochester's joe Stancl during the Salvation Army's Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday at the organization's Social Services Center. (Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin)

The Salvation Army also continues its toy collection efforts, with the Sharing Tree added to Apache Mall last week for donations, and several Angel Trees throughout the city to help gift givers target specific wants and needs from local children.

While the Sharing Tree is designed to accept any gift donation, Angel Trees are decorated with tags, which givers take to deliver the desired toy or item.

Angel Trees are located at both Rochester Walmart locations, as well as plans at the Mayo Civic Center.

Toy drive collection boxes are also located at Evangel United Methodist Church, 2645 N. Broadway Ave., and Best Buy.

The annual toy distribution is Dec. 21 and 22, but families can register now at https://saangeltree.org/, and in-person registration will start Dec. 6 at Salvation Army’s Social Services Center for those unable to signup online.

Rebecca Snapp, the local Salvation Army’s director of community engagement, said volunteers are being sought to help with the toy distribution, to keep the spirit of giving going.

“We never have all the people we need to make it go smoothly and get all the people in and out as soon as possible,” she said, adding she’s still always impressed by the outpouring of help received.