By ROBIN CAUDELL
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Thursday’s warm temperatures prompted people to mill in the parking lot outside the Plattsburgh Elks Lodge 621.
Inside, people feasted at the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving Day dinner.
Envoy Frank Smith was so exhausted an hour into the three-hour serving window, he didn’t know how he was going to make it until the end.
“We fed a little more than 400 people last year,” Smith said. “Now, we’ve had a little more than 200 people. They’re still coming in.”
A groaning dessert table topped with pies, brownies, cookies and cake greeted each person as they walked into the dining room, where tables were draped in white cloths and accented with autumnal-hued place mats and napkins.
Diners had a lake view as they chowed down on turkey, ham with raisin sauce, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, yams, squash, corn, cranberry sauce and dinner rolls.
Smith and his wife, Envoy Sue Smith, started the logistics for this day in October. The Salvation Army received contributions from Hannaford, Lake Champlain Turkey Talkers, Momot Elementary School, Hood, Pray’s Farmer’s Market, Doucette Potato Farm, Pepsi and individual donors and volunteers.
Salvation Army head cook Marj Minkler, Elks chef Mike Ryan and volunteers started this day at 5 a.m.
“We need a bigger building,” said Brad Polhemus, the lodge’s exalted ruler.
“It really blows me away how many people gather to do this,” Smith said.
Elks member Marvin Benton dined with two volunteers.
“I’m thankful the Salvation Army puts this on, and we get so many young volunteers to come in and help out. It’s great to see,” Benton said.
One of his anonymous dining partners was thankful for her family, grandchildren and the opportunity to volunteer.
“I love doing this kind of thing,” she said. “I really don’t want the publicity for it.”
Brenda LaPoint was among the food servers.
“I’m thankful for this wonderful feast for everybody to enjoy,” LaPoint said.
West Chazy resident Megan Chew was thankful for her sisters, family and friends.
Tracy Gardener traveled from Merrill to volunteer.
“I’m thankful for the nice weather we’re having, my family, health and being able to help the needy,” Gardener said.
“I’m thankful I have him,” said Peru resident Alice King of James Stockdale.
A call from a friend to volunteer changed the day that Rachel Filimon had planned with her daughter in Chazy.
“It all came out in a very nice way,” Filimon said.
Saranac resident Judy LaBounty was thankful for her savior, Jesus Christ, and her family.
Young server Kyle Gorman was thankful for his family and friends.
With an hour left to go, Minkler took a load off and sat with friends and family.
She grew up on Chazy Lake in a 15-member family.
“I was right in the middle,” Minkler said. “They’re not too many of us left. We had a farm. My mom worked out in the woods helping cut wood. We were in the house taking care of all the cleaning and cooking.”
Minkler started working at age 15. Three years later, she was cooking at SUNY Plattsburgh. She also did catering at the VFW Post 309 in Peru. About three years ago, she started at the Salvation Army to cook hearty lunches five days a week.
“I just enjoy it,” said Minkler, 73. “That’s my job, cooking.”
Her not-so-secret ingredients were butter and brown sugar in the yams and squash. The yams got an extra touch of marshmallows.
The mother of five, she has 10 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
After her day’s work was done here, she had a dinner invitation out.
She was thankful for …
“I can cook and stay living to do it,” Minkler said. “God keeps me healthy.”
Email Robin Caudell: firstname.lastname@example.org