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Cherokee to host free community dinner

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CHEROKEE, Kan. — With the rising cost of food and many people unable to make it to family events for the holidays, citizens of Cherokee have come together to host its 18th Annual Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday.  

The Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner started in 2004 when Cherokee citizen Peggy Ashbaugh told other members of the community that her and her family used to organize and prepare dinners for servicemen who were spending Thanksgiving alone, at a nearby military base where she lived in California. She helped make the meals for 12 years, and only stopped because she moved to Kansas. She expressed that she would like to start doing a free dinner for Thanksgiving where everyone is welcome in the area.  

At the time Ashbaugh worked at Cooky’s, a restaurant in Cherokee, and the owner, Dana Cook, said Ashbaugh could use the kitchen there to cook the Thanksgiving meal for the community. The dinner was held at the restaurant until four years ago, when Ashbaugh and other organizers moved the Thanksgiving meal to the Cherokee Methodist Church.  

Cherokee resident Marianne Kossman said she started helping organize the event 5 years ago, and that they even had a successful dinner during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. She said for that year, they delivered meals, and had a drive-thru set up at the church.  

“We were surprised it worked as well as it did,” she said. 

Kossman said that many businesses, churches, and individual families donate to help pay for the dinner every year, and that the event would not be possible without all the hard work from the volunteers who prepare and serve the food.  

The Thanksgiving meal will include turkey, ham, side dishes, and desserts. Kossman said the event is non-denominational and everyone in the area is welcome to eat a free meal and engage with the community.   

“You don't even have to be a Cherokee resident to participate,” Kossman said.  

She said this event was important because the organizers don’t want people at home and lonely.  

“This started because there were people like us that knew that there were people out there who couldn’t afford to have dinner or didn’t have anyone to eat with,” Kossman said. “You never know what families are going through at the time.” 

She said the organizers continue the tradition every year because people tell them how much they appreciate the meal.  

“We keep doing it because people enjoy it so much,” Kossman said. 

 The Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 24 at Cherokee United Methodist Church, 312 W. Magnolia Street. Patrons can do dine-in or carryout. Deliveries will be available for sick or disabled Cherokee residents. For delivery service, call 620-457-8538 before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 23.  

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