FARIBAULT, Minn. - Circumstances will leave many alone this holiday, but in Faribault, Mal Hlady has made it part of her life's mission to offer comfort at a common table.
"I have had other cities call and ask, 'How in the world did we get this started?'" said Hlady.
She started the free Faribault Community Thanksgiving Dinner 27 years ago after experiencing great loss. Her son died at the age of three from a heart defect, and not long after, she says her father and father-in-law were killed in tragic accidents.
That's when she decided she would never have to feel alone on a holiday.
"We can sit and feel sorry for ourselves, or we can do something for people who have it as bad or worse," said Hlady. "Our very first Thanksgiving, we served 300 people."
This year, at the American Legion Post 43, volunteers served around 1,000 meals and 800 pounds of turkey to anyone who wanted to join, and many also delivered meals to seniors, or those who are sick or struggling.
As a former restaurant owner, Hlady does what she knows, by coordinating donations, volunteers and food.
"Nobody is paying for this meal. It's not like it has to be absolutely perfect. Whatever love goes into make it even better, you know?" said longtime volunteer and assumed head chef Janna Viscomi. "That is the message here. The community is just a great family."
And over time, it wasn't just Hlady who found a new family.
"That way you open doors to meet new people and faces. That has always been my challenge to get out and meet new people. What a wonderful thing to be doing," said Verna Bahl, who came for the first time. "We shouldn't only do this on Thanksgiving Day. We should do it every day of our life."
Hlady said she tried to retire, but the town wouldn't let her. And so the community dinner was saved by future generations, mainly her daughter and grandchildren.
"There are only 6 or 12 people that have taken my place," she laughed.
Few in Faribault can remember life before this common table where loss is momentarily set aside and blessings become too many to count.
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