Bird is the Thanksgiving day word at Eagles Club |

Bird is the Thanksgiving day word at Eagles Club

Caitlin Causey
Post Independent correspondent
The main volunteers for the annual Eagles Turkey dinner. From left to right Claudine Wheeler, Dawn Otto-Hayes, Craig Pickett, Teri Clark and Sidney Wheeler.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent | Post Independent

Like many people in America, Dawn Otto-Hayes spent this past weekend planning for a Thanksgiving feast.

“Here’s my to-do list. I use it every year,” she said, thumbing through a crumpled stack of papers with handwritten instructions. “I have a whole plan, day by day until Thanksgiving. I start the turkeys on the Sunday before. This year we’ve got 30.”

You read that right: 30 turkeys. Not to mention 200 pounds of potatoes, 10 pounds of butter, several gallons of homemade cranberry sauce, over 80 pies, and nearly 60 pounds of dressing (her mother’s own recipe).

“Yep, this year I think we might serve 450, 500 folks,” she said. You may have guessed it by now, but Otto-Hayes is in charge of organizing the Eagles Club 23rd annual Free Turkey Dinner, a local tradition that is without question Glenwood’s largest Thanksgiving gathering.

“A lot of the residents we bring food to just don’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. Plus some of them are home bound and can’t leave their apartments, so we bring the dinner to them.”Dawn Otto-HayesVice President of Eagles Club

“It is so much work, but I love it,” said Otto-Hayes, who is vice president of the club’s auxiliary. “This is my third year being in charge. Luckily I have a lot of volunteer help.”

The Eagles Club’s annual dinner began as a modest affair years ago, when former member Danny Gonzalez served a single turkey and side dishes to anyone who walked through the club’s doors. Over the next several years the feast grew larger, serving more and more people from all walks of local life.

“I think in years past the Eagles Thanksgiving dinner was seen as an event geared more toward the homeless or the needy,” Otto-Hayes recalled. “And that is true — we do have many homeless people coming for a meal here. But now we also see so many other people from around town who come for all kinds of reasons: older folks without families, single dads with children, maybe some people who just don’t want to be alone on the holiday.

“And others come just because it’s fun and the food is good! We do see some high-profile people, too. All kinds,” she said.

In addition to meals served at the club’s space on Seventh Street, Otto-Hayes noted that the Eagles bring food to local retirement homes, including Sunnyside and Manors I and II. They also take orders and drop off to-go plates at the homes of those in Glenwood proper who are unable to travel. Last year, these special deliveries accounted for 212 meals, more than a third of the total 534 free dinners served.

“A lot of the residents we bring food to just don’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. Plus some of them are home bound and can’t leave their apartments, so we bring the dinner to them,” Otto-Hayes said.

The event is somewhat of a barn-raising, with a variety of local individuals, businesses and groups chipping in to donate food and hours of work. Lift-Up provided most of the turkeys, City Market and Jimmy John’s provided bread, and 33 community volunteers helped bring the event to fruition in 2014. More are expected this year, when small teams will work together to prep ingredients, organize supplies, cook, make deliveries, serve plates, clean up and wash dishes.

Seating at the club begins at 11 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, Otto-Hayes reported.

“We usually serve until maybe 4 or 5 p.m. — really until the food runs out,” she said, adding that any leftovers will be donated to Lift-Up’s Extended Table program.

Otto-Hayes oversees the event from start to finish, but she indicated that her favorite role is possibly that of head chef.

“I get there at 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to get all the food going and keep it hot throughout the day. We do a lot of the recipes from scratch. I’m back in the kitchen doing the cooking and I love it — I love to ‘stir the pot,’ so to speak,” she said with a chuckle.

The event has become a venerated celebration of community togetherness in recent years. At a time when Glenwood Springs residents are hotly debating a slew of local social issues, the good old Eagles Club Free Turkey Dinner presents itself as a humble opportunity to break bread with not only loved ones but individuals of different ages, backgrounds and means — neighbors and strangers alike.

“The Eagles are really proud of this tradition in Glenwood Springs,” Otto-Hayes said. “Food just brings people together.”

The Eagles Club is located at 312 Seventh Street. For information and morning-of orders, call 970-945-5506.

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