EAST DUBUQUE, Ill. -- Laughter, chatter and friendly banter filled the air at The Other Side this morning, along with the tempting aroma of turkey, potatoes and other Thanksgiving delicacies.
More than 30 volunteers helped serve and deliver a free Thanksgiving meal hosted by the East Dubuque bar and restaurant in collaboration with the East Dubuque Lions Club.
"It's Thanksgiving, so we're here to help people. And it's the start of the Christmas spirit," said volunteer Mary Knupp, of East Dubuque. "There's so many people that need this -- the elderly, those that have nowhere to go."
The meal was available to all area residents, regardless of income status, and meals were available for pickup or delivery.
Organizers launched the event last year when several community meals, including the Dubuque Community Thanksgiving Dinner and a meal at Lu Lu’s Seldom Scene in East Dubuque, were not held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Meyer, owner of The Other Side, said 544 meals were distributed last year. This year, organizers planned for about 600, including 400 scheduled deliveries.
"It’s a cool thing and fun to be a part of,” he said. “You see the happiness and the smiles on the faces of the people who are coming in and out, or when you drop off food.”
Volunteers and staff from The Other Side cooked a total of 28 turkeys for the event, along with other Thanksgiving staples.
Knupp and a friend had spent the previous three days baking 58 pies, ranging from cherry to strawberry to pumpkin to chocolate silk.
Today she formed part of the double-sided assembly line set up at two folding tables in front of The Other Side's bar.
Dubuque resident Christy Kies handed Styrofoam containers to Knupp and Cindee King, of Bernard, who filled them with moist slices of turkey.
As the containers made their way down the line, volunteers added mashed potatoes, stuffing and corn, then ladled gravy onto the hot food.
While scooping mashed potatoes, King's daughter Faith Blakeman, 19, said she was happy to spend her Thanksgiving serving the community.
"It's good to help others that need it," she said.
At the end of the line, Diana Sullivan sealed, stacked and bagged the containers, ready for delivery drivers to distribute to hungry recipients.
Sullivan, who lives near Madison, Wis., is Meyer's aunt.
"My family is all here," she said, gesturing around the packed restaurant.
Near the door, Meyer consulted a list and called out the names of those who had signed up to receive a meal. Volunteer delivery drivers grabbed bags of hot food from Sullivan, along with separate bags containing cold items like dinner rolls, cranberries and dessert.
"We want to take it to the people who, maybe for COVID reasons, are staying home as well," Meyer said. "If people don’t want to get together for fear of COVID, we'll just bring the meals to you.”