VOLIN — The Rev. Velma Larson is ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with her extended family: all 40 to 50 of them.
Larson doesn't exactly have that many family members, but she considers anyone in her congregation at Faith United Lutheran Church to be family.
Once again, Faith United Lutheran will be hosting a holiday dinner at noon on Thanksgiving Day, and the meal is open to anyone.
"We are an extended family, and the congregation is a family of faith," Larson said. "We are excited to see our family members, which is a cool thing to be a part of this."
The meal isn't open just to member of Faith United Lutheran, but to anyone who wants to come for the dinner, even if they don't live in Volin.
"You don't even have to be a friend of the congregation, or even in the area," Larson said. "We have had people drive from 40 miles just so they don't have to be alone on Thanksgiving."
Larson doesn't know how long the Thanksgiving tradition has been offered at the church, just it was going on before she came to Faith United Lutheran.
The church has a Thanksgiving Eve mass at 7:30 p.m., and following the service, there is a pumpkin pie party.
Whatever pie is left over is used the next day for the Thanksgiving dinner.
The turkey is cooked by one of the host families, and while Larson doesn't know how big the turkey is, she knows it's definitely big enough to serve the group.
"In the three years I have been here, it's been cooked ahead of time, carved and served hot in a roaster oven," she said. "You don't have to wait while someone carves it."
The number of people who usually show up is around 40 to 50 people, but Larson said it's not always the same group of people.
Larson said people have different reasons for joining them on Thanksgiving.
"There are some people who are living alone and don't want to be alone, so they are welcome," she said. "If you have physical limitations, we have an elevator that you can get in straight from the parking lot to help you get down to where the food is served."
Families are also welcome to attend the dinner.
"Some families find it easier to just take everyone out to eat," Larson said. "Preparing all the food can be a lot of work, and some families don't have that energy. Sometimes it's just easier to make a bowl of scalloped potatoes or something like that and bring it to the dinner."
The meal is a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with food ranging from ham, turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and any other food people bring in, Larson said.
"It's a very informal event, and it's not a formal meal at all," she said. "You don't have to worry about dressing up. You just celebrate the day."
Larson does have family who joins her for the Thanksgiving dinner, which means she will be bringing fruit salad to the meal.
"My children believe that it's not a holiday unless we have fruit salad," she said. "I always provide that for my children so it feels like we are celebrating a holiday."
Larson said her personal favorite dish on Thanksgiving is the dressing.
Even though 50 people on Thanksgiving is a big meal, Larson said there is always room for more.
"Our fellowship hall fits 90 to 100, so if we have 50 people, it's not standing room only," she said. "It's a 12-foot table that we serve the food on, and we have never run out of food since I have been here."