A Dubuque tradition of more than half a century is without its founder for the first time.
Donna Ginter held a free Thanksgiving dinner for people in need every year since the early 1960s. She died earlier this year, but her legacy is living on. More than 2,000 people are getting a Thanksgiving meal this year, thanks to Ginter's annual tradition.
It's an effort she led for decades and now it's in her family's hands.
Although it takes a lot of organization to prepare more than 1,800 meals for home delivery, the Donna Ginter Thanksgiving Dinner is a well-oiled machine. Now, without the tradition's founder at the helm, Ginter's daughters Kathy and Genny Ginter are running the show.
"It's got to continue," Genny Ginter said Thursday morning. "She worked so hard for this to happen, it would just be crazy for this not to happen, you know?"
She said her mom "lived for this," always raising money to help feed the hungry.
"There are so many people out here who actually need it," Genny Ginter said. "Some of the homes don't deliver. The shut-ins, they don't (otherwise) get meals delivered to them on this holiday."
At Dubuque's Knights of Columbus Hall, more than 300 volunteers showed up for the morning shift of packing up meals for home delivery.
A new local organization called Resources Unite is partnering with the Donna Ginter Thanksgiving Dinner this year. Through social media, Resources Unite enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers.
"People know Donna Ginter and they know the tradition, and so people already are primed to make a difference and get involved," Resources Unite founder and director Josh Jasper said. "Putting it out on our Facebook page and Twitter and things like that, (we) just had an overwhelming response."
Dubuque native Gary Schubert and his family volunteered at the Ginter dinner for the first time.
"The Ginter family obviously has a long-standing tradition here with their family of giving back and supporting the community, and we just thought that part of our day we'd like to dedicate to returning the generosity that life has shown us," he said. "We certainly encourage other families to consider adding this to their Thanksgiving tradition as well."
Jasper estimated a total of more than 500 volunteers would show up to help throughout the course of the event.
"We were quite surprised," Schubert said. "When we got here, the line for the volunteers was going up the stairs and back down the stairs."
While Donna Ginter's family members miss their matriarch, they say they could feel Ginter's generous spirit throughout the entire hall.
"She's always here!" Genny Ginter said.
Organizers said numbers were down this year, as some people didn't think the tradition would continue without its founder. Ginter's daughters, however, say they plan to keep the annual dinner alive.
"Oh yes, every year," Genny Ginter said. "Until I can't do it."
The meal included more than 2,000 pounds of turkey, 54 cases of mashed potatoes and four tons of salad.
Genny Ginter didn't have an exact figure Saturday morning, but she said the meal costs tens of thousands of dollars to put on every year, all of which comes from donations and fundraisers.
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