It’s the end of an era that some might have placed bets on, yet Thanksgiving Day 2018 will be the final day with Mickey Peabody and Vickie Thompson at the helm of the Spirit of Oakdale Thanksgiving dinner.
“At year 20 we hope to get the next generation in to follow suit,” co-founder Vickie Thompson said, “but that didn’t happen.”
The Spirit of Oakdale Thanksgiving dinner began in 1994. At that time Thompson owned Vickie T’s restaurant, adjacent to the H-B Saloon. One day the two women began discussing the upcoming holidays and potential plans. At the time, all major restaurants were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.
According to Peabody, at the time she was running for an Oakdale City Council seat and eager to get publicity. Thompson, on the other hand, was eager to promote her restaurant. Yet, they thought of the homeless and those without family as well and so began the holiday dinner which would be free to the community.
Enlisting the support of the city, as well as local fire and police agencies and a small committee of volunteers, the first dinner was hosted at the former Gene Bianchi Community Center adjacent to City Hall.
“The one beater,” Thomson laughed, recalling one of the earliest and funniest memories of the past 25 years. “That was the best. Our first year, we had a hand beater with one beater, not two going around, but one.”
Yet the fresh mashed potatoes were still made and have continued to be. Now however, the hall is bigger and the people are more.
“I never dreamt it would turn into what it has,” Peabody admitted of the current dinner location at the new Gene Bianchi Community Center and the hundreds they feed each year. People line up out front as early as 7:30 a.m. for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. dinner service.
Once at the event, community members are treated to a hot homemade meal, dessert, crafts for the children, a box of food if needed and every child receives a toy. In 25 years the women shared they only once ran out of something … sweet potatoes.
“We wouldn’t have known if she didn’t have the restaurant experience,” Peabody said of Thompson providing the insight for what quantities of food would be needed. “That was the basis of it all and I just wanted the publicity, because I was running for office.
“She had nothing but good will,” Peabody continued, “and I had a motive.”
Motive soon gave way to good will for Peabody as well, and the two have continued to spearhead the annual dinner.
There is a lifelong bond between the two women; they are family. As they speak candidly of the years that have passed there are laughs and then there are tears. For 25 years, the two community members have not just built but led an army of people willing to give up their Thanksgiving plans for community.
“From Wednesday night through Thursday it’s utter chaos, but it’s controlled chaos,” Thompson said.
“We could not have done what we have done for 25 years without our faithful people who show up every year,” Peabody added. “Some of our volunteers will stay on to help them.”
The “them” Peabody speaks of would be the Oakdale Lions Club, which graciously stepped in to continue the tradition into year 26 and beyond.
“The Lions will be here to follow us this year,” Thompson said, “and then we will hand it over to them to take over next year. My dad was a Lion, so when the boys came to me I was very happy that they decided to take it.”
“They’ve done the breakfasts and they’re familiar with that kitchen,” Peabody shared. “What I’m going to miss is the people and seeing the people that you count on. They’re so reliable. It’s so well oiled.”
Thompson shared she will also miss many aspects of the event and intends to still be on hand to help next year as well. Memories of community members who touch her heart each year, sharing the importance the event brings to their day. Some noting if it were not for Spirit of Oakdale, they would not have a Thanksgiving meal.
“I’m going to miss it,” she shared. “If I could only have Wednesday and the Thursday I could do it, but it’s everything else.”
The planning, coordinating and preparation for the annual dinner stretches into months, though it is a task the two women have done willingly.
“I think just the camaraderie,” Thompson noted as the most impactful. “To be able to look at people serving and see maybe a homeless person standing next to the mayor and everybody eating together. Everybody’s the same.”
Yet 25 years, thousands of pounds of potatoes and countless turkeys later, the women know this is the right time.
“Good luck,” Peabody stated, giggling as she offered her wisdom to the Lions.
“Hang on,” Thompson followed. “Buckle up for this ride.”
“But the reward,” Peabody added, eyes glistening with tears.
“To see a child’s face sparkle,” Thompson concluded, “it’s all worth it.”
The Spirit of Oakdale Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be hosted Thursday, Nov. 22 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gene Bianchi Community Center, 110 S. Second Ave., Oakdale. The meal is free to the community. All are welcome.