Hays community comes together planning adjusted Thanksgiving community meal


The holidays are times of gathering with friends and family, of showing gratitude and love toward one another, and of quality time with loved ones.

The holidays, this year, are a time of caution.

With the COVID-19 pandemic as strong as it has ever been, communities across the United States are going into next week’s Thanksgiving while still attempting to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

For this reason, social distancing, masks, and avoidance of large gatherings change how each of us approaches holidays.

In Hays, this means changing a tradition.

“Ellis County Thanksgiving Feast has been an annual event for over 20 years. Ellis County Ministerial Alliance has organized it for I think we are now at 13 years,” said Pastor Celeste Lasich of Hays First Presbyterian Church.

Lasich has organized this annual community meal for the past eight years, and she, along with other members of the ECMA and First Call for Help, determined they wanted to move forward with the meal.

By the previous summer, however, they knew they would be unable to hold the meal in person. The alternative was to reach out to the community for help in providing an alternative.

“This community recognizes the importance of this event and many stepped up to offer support,  and help,” Lasich said. “The decision to work with Gellas as our caterer included their outstanding reputation and  location  as a downtown accessible site for curbside drive through pick up.”

This Thanksgiving Day, 800 pre-ordered meals of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, rolls, green beans and pie will be picked up from Gella’s. Even more meals will be delivered to homes through First Call for Help.

As Gella’s Catering and Banquet Director Kristiana Molina explained, this is the restaurant’s first year participating in the community meal. Gella’s staff will prepare and box the meals in time to distribute to families at lunch time.

“We always want to give back to the community, but especially now during these challenging times. Our hope is that this Thanksgiving meal brings joy, happiness, and full tummies to everyone who picks up a meal,” Molina said.

This year’s team of volunteers will be masked, outside and socially distanced to ensure the health and safety of the event.

Even in taking such precautions, there were difficulties in preparing for the unusual community meal. Lasich cites community entities, such as the Hays Police Department and Dillons, as well as donors for their part in keeping the Hays tradition alive.

“While we will not be gathered under one roof,” she said, “our tables are joined in caring community. Included with the meals will be local opportunities for connection and support, in person and virtual and a devotional giving thanks for the connections that bind us.”

The ECMA also hopes to show this community support and servitude by collecting groceries the weekend before Thanksgiving. These groceries will then be freely distributed at Oak St. and 11th in conjunction with the meal pick-up.

While the meal required pre-registration, Lasich explained there will also be a few available after 12:45 p.m. to those who did not register. Those individuals can then join the line of vehicles lining up on Oak St. and turning right on 11th St.

“We will have signs, maps and traffic helpers to keep everyone safe. We appreciate everyone’s patience and cooperation as we seek to serve our community safely in celebration of Thanksgiving,” Lasich said.

As the holidays approach, it is important to remember that we live in the midst of a pandemic and that we should take the appropriate safety precautions.

For Hays and Ellis County, however, this virus does not eclipse the need for community service, togetherness or simply a good meal. Traditions may change, but the purpose behind them will not.

“Thanksgiving is about being thankful and showing compassion,” Molina said. “We are very thankful for this opportunity to give back to our community, which we love and care so much about.”

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