HELENA — From early Thursday morning, the staff and volunteers at God’s Love Shelter in Helena were getting ready for their annual free Thanksgiving meal.
“They were up at 3 a.m., cooking all of this and getting all this ready,” said Rachel Saunders, office manager for the director.
Volunteers began serving at 1 p.m. This year, organizers expected to feed at least 200 people by the end of the day.
“We have 20 turkeys we’ve cooked, and five hams, and then we have all of the sides – the green bean casserole, we have five sheet pans of mashed potatoes, we have I’d say maybe a three-gallon tub of gravy,” Saunders said. “We’re expecting for a lot of people this year.”
Saunders said the meal is about more than just the food.
“You don’t have to be homeless,” she said. “This is open to everyone who wants to come down, so we have a lot of people who come down just to have Thanksgiving with someone.”
Saunders’ family started God’s Love about 40 years ago. She has been taking part in these Thanksgiving meals since she was young.
“As I tell a lot of people here, ‘Hey, you guys are like a second family to me,’” she said. “I’ve grown up with a lot of them; I’ve known them since I was a kid. I definitely really enjoy getting to come down here with the guys and just spend Thanksgiving with them.”
God’s Love had reason to expect a large turnout this year. Saunders said the shelter has been unusually busy all summer. They’re currently seeing numbers of residents that they don’t usually have until the coldest part of the winter.
“It’s been a rotation of, as soon as one bed opens up, we’re rushing in, cleaning it, getting it all wiped down, removing what people left – and then the next person’s moving in, just within hours,” said Saunders.
Saunders said more of the people they’re working with are coming from out of state. She said they typically have around 30 people at summer meals, but they were often serving 70 to 90 this summer.
If you’re interested in donating to God’s Love, Saunders said some of the items they really need include hygiene products and especially silverware, cups, bowls and plates.