About five years ago, Scott Ellinger, the owner of The Brass Rail restaurant in O’Fallon, decided to offer a free Thanksgiving dinner to those in need.
“It started out with 80 people [who wanted meals] and it’s just mushroomed,” Ellinger said. “So now, this year, we’re going to do 6,000 [meals].”
On Thanksgiving, volunteers from the community, along with some staff volunteers, will provide dine-in and carry out meals at the restaurant located at 4601 Hwy. K, as well as home deliveries of full-Thanksgiving-style meals to anyone in need.
Volunteers are still needed.
Meals have been requested for delivery in places as far as Silex in Lincoln County, Washington, Spanish Lake in St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis. However, due to the extremely high demand, Ellinger said delivery orders from now on will be limited to St. Charles County.
Ellinger said there are no requirements to receive a meal. “We trust that if someone calls or shows up, they are in need.
And volunteers provide much of the labor. Ellinger doesn’t schedule his staff for the event, although some willingly participate. As many as 700 volunteers are expected to help out, particularly in providing home delivery.
Ellinger said he started the meal to give back to the community. “It started out as something that was a little bit smaller.”
For the first few years, Ellinger said he had a hard time attracting people. But the word got out from churches, schools and other organizations and, these days, there is little need to advertise.
“You just realize how much need there is out there, which I don’t think I realized in the beginning. It’s gotten crazy,” he said. “If there are that many people out there who need it, we’re willing to help.”
The many people in need are a cross-section of society, Ellinger explained. “There are those that have an immediate tragedy, like their house burned down – last year, we had a family whose house burned down Tuesday of that week,” he said. “You get veterans; you get people who are just struggling; we get seniors who have lost a loved one; you name it.”
This year will be the biggest dinner Ellinger will do. Last year, Ellinger said they served 3,100 meals and, this year, the logistics had to be completely redesigned to pull the dinner off.
The stress on staff and volunteers is getting too much and changes may be in the offing, he said.
“It’s gotten to the point there are so many people, we will not be able to do it out of the restaurant next year,” Ellinger said. “We will probably have to rent a facility.”
Other changes also may be discussed next summer when planning begins for the dinner. Ellinger said, “I don’t know what changes we’ll make … 6,000 is a heck of a lot of people.”
This year’s menu includes turkey, ham, yams, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, two different vegetables, rolls, dessert, cranberry sauce and gravy. “It’s a full Thanksgiving dinner,” Ellinger said.
The cooking began Sunday night. “There’s stuff on the stove and there will be until Thursday night,” Ellinger said.
Anyone interested in participating should contact the restaurant at (636) 329-1349.