The hard economic times and food shortages brought about by World War I were the impetus for a small Kansas community to launch what would become a years-long tradition — a Community Thankfeast. Demonstrations of industry, generosity, reverence, patriotism, compassion, and hospitality accompanied the overarching sentiment of gratitude as folks, young and old, gathered for not only a Thanksgiving banquet but also for a patriotic program put on by the school children. Supper (Yes! an additional meal of the overabundance) followed by music and dancing through the evening wrapped up the day. Guests from out of town were welcome and in some years the attendance swelled to twice the population. Donations of 35 cents per person–for those who could pay–were collected and donated to the community church and school.
I hope you enjoy this heartwarming story.
Kansas Folk Get Together
In our rural town of about 220 inhabitants, we host what we call Our Annual Thankfeast. About two weeks before Thanksgiving, the women of the community, meet and elect a captain who appoints important committees and has charge of the affair. A soliciting committee composed of several groups, canvases the town and surrounding country for edibles of all kinds, to be served at the community feast on Thanksgiving Day. These are donated. Things are prepared as far as possible at home although the dinner is served in a large hall, where fully a dozen efficient cooks are busy warming up meats, cooking potatoes, dumplings, gravy, coffee. These cooks, decorators, and table arrangers meet in the afternoon preceding the dinner, stoves are arranged, tables spread, vegetables prepared, decorations completed and everything made ready for a glorious morrow.
Come rain, come shine the town is full of guests throughout the following day. There is also a large church attendance. Before the dinner is served, thanks are offered up to the Bountiful Giver of all things. The charge for the dinner is 35 cents.
No amount of expense or culinary art in the individual homes could provide the variety of choice foods which in this way are served to the public. Then there is the delightful companionship, the intermingling of old and young, the gaiety and reverence for the occasion.
After dinner, while clearing away and washing the dishes, groups have a social good time visiting; others go out-of-doors where contests are put on for small prizes.
About three in the afternoon the children, who have been well trained by the teachers put on a creditable, patriotic program. They are equipped with caps and streamers of red, white and blue, and march through the street. When they reach the flag pole, the flag is hoisted with appropriate honors, while the crowd listens to a brief oration and joins with the children in singing The Star Spangled Banner. Supper is then served on the long tables arranged to seat as high as 250 guests. Sometimes five or six hundred are fed during the day.
Later, there is dancing for those who wish. Others listen to the music and visit.
The entertainment is sometimes free; sometimes ten cents is charged. Funds not used to pay expenses, go to either church or school. Poor and rich fare alike. Those whom it is known cannot pay are served free of any charge and engage in the festivities of the day with their neighbors. It is a democratic gathering, where superiority and wealth go entirely unnoticed and true worth is extolled. It is a gala day of thanks, joy, solicitous endeavor, pleasure, and happy contentment for this rural community. The happy custom originated during the war when foods were scarce and prices high and has been successfully carried out since, making a joyful community day for all.
The article above was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine for Farm Women November 1922, Webb Publishing Company, St Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.