‘Friendsgiving’ has become annual event in Chatfield

Chatfield's community thanksgiving dinner is what organizer Pam Bluhm calls "a community of friends" coming together to make dinner happen for people who don't have other plans
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

“We always have enough food,” said Chatfield resident Pam Bluhm, armed with her trusty electric roasters and a crew of volunteers. “I can’t even remember how many years we’ve been doing this, but I just started a Thanksgiving dinner, and the church let me use the basement.”

And so, nearly two decades later, Bluhm and her friends gather each Thanksgiving at Pioneer Presbyterian Church to offer a feast and fellowship to anyone in the Chatfield area who either doesn’t have anywhere to go for dinner or who has chosen to remain in Chatfield when the Minnesota forecast foils their original family dinner plans. The very first year, about 65 people, including the workers, showed up and last year, 92 or 93 people came to the dinner. 

“We served over 90 people, but that varies depending on the year, depending on what the weather’s like, because some people are driving out of town if the weather’s good, but if the weather’s bad, they like to stay in town and come to dinner at the church,” Bluhm said.

She pointed out that some of her guests come to dinner for a couple years in a row, then find that they have invitations that they can accept elsewhere, but no matter the cast, the show is in watching people interact with one another and count their blessings together. 

“It’s a family of friends,” she said.

The generosity and simplicity of the moment are greatly acknowledged and appreciated, but the work to make it happen takes so very many hands, as there’s a smorgasbord of turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, a couple salads, dinner rolls that are baked the day before, pickles, cranberry salad, homemade pumpkin pies made from scratch, pumpkin bars, homemade squash, and sweet corn that was cut off the cob in the summer and frozen. Bluhm shops early to stock up for the dinner, enlisting friends and family to keep an eye on grocery store ads as she’s filling her pantry with Thanksgiving staples long before the calendar reaches the first day of November, thanking those who donate squash, pumpkins for pie, pumpkin bars, salads and more. 

This year, she estimates that she and her volunteer chefs will be making 40 pounds of turkey, 25 pounds of ham and 40 pounds of potatoes, as well as staying up very late on Wednesday evening to be certain that everything’s ready for morning, when she comes into the church kitchen and plugs in the roasters and turns the ovens on just after 7 a.m. to have a noon dinner spread for nearly 100 people.  Her daughter, Sam, is in charge of the dinner rolls this year and will be coming home to fill the kitchen with the warm aroma of fresh bread. 

Bluhm observed that though everything is provided, “some people bring in something” or spend an evening stirring pots of gravy or getting the plates and silverware out because it makes them feel good to contribute to the feast. 

“We’ve had a lot of different people help over the years, and we’ve got people who wash and peel potatoes – that’s not my most favorite chore,” she said. “We get them cut up and ready to go the night before, we get the turkey and ham so that it’s ready.  Volunteers that work that day, we have six to eight volunteers, but there are volunteers that help the day before, so overall, there are 10 to 15 people who help with different things, and some of them don’t even come to dinner the next day.”

She extended the invitation to anyone who’d like to join her and her troupe of faithful volunteers at Pioneer Presbyterian on Fillmore Street this Thursday, Nov. 28, at noon. Reservations aren’t necessary, but Bluhm is available at The Chatfield News office at 507-867-3870 for more information. 

“We’ve had some people come as one person, and we’ve had some come as a family to have dinner with us.  It takes a whole bunch of people to make this happen.  It’s a community effort and a community of friends,” she said.