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COVID-19 won’t stop the annual Brass Rail Thanksgiving Dinner

The local restaurant and its army of volunteers will once again feed thousands 

For sevens years, Scott Ellinger, chef/owner of the Brass Rail in O’Fallon, has provided Thanksgiving dinner to families who otherwise might not have the means to celebrate with a traditional feast – and not just a few families. 

Ellinger and his crew of staff and volunteers feed thousands of area residents. 

“We started it honestly because we were getting some requests from local elementary schools to help out with the backpack program for kids who don’t have a lot of food over the weekend,” Ellinger explained. “So I had a couple of those conversations and realized that there was a much greater need right around the restaurant than any of us thought. 

“I thought if these families don’t have food for the weekend, they certainly don’t have Thanksgiving dinner. So, the first year we fed like 110 people just to see if we could pull it off.”

That first 100 in year one grew to 1,000 in year two. “And then 3,000, and then 7,000,” Ellinger said. “Last year, we served 11,000.”

Scott Ellinger at Brass Rail
Scott Ellinger, chef/owner of The Brass Rail in O’Fallon, prepares to feed thousands on Thanksgiving Day. (Source: Facebook/Brass Rail)

Deliveries begin leaving the restaurant at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy – all the things the make Thanksgiving memorable are packed by volunteers into banker’s boxes and delivered to area homes by volunteer drivers. 

“Last year, we had the Highway Patrol blocking part of Hwy. K because the cars were lined up so far up Hwy. K – just for the opportunity to deliver meals on Thanksgiving Day – that we were blocking traffic,” Ellinger said. 

Cindy Lawson, who with her husband, try to volunteer every year, said, “It’s amazing to see the long line of cars wrap-around the building at 8 a.m. waiting to pick up meals and deliver them. Scott has created a landmark event that really brings out the best in people!”

Ellinger witnessed first hand how the event has changed lives. 

“People come back from the deliveries changed just a little bit,” he said. “They see these people who are struggling, and the volunteers are so thankful that they’re able to help out. It’s just amazing to watch. Some of the families who deliver on Thanksgiving adopt those same families at Christmas and, on their own, drop off toys and food. Boy, that is just amazing to me!

“The people who receive these meals are truly thankful for them and so many times send back these beautifully written letters or thank you notes from little kids written in crayon. That’s the best part of all.” 

The Brass Rail Thanksgiving Dinner operates independent of area food pantries. 

“They do such incredible work the rest of the year, we try to give them a break on this one day,” Ellinger said. 

COVID-19 has forced the event to change a bit in 2020. The restaurant had hoped to deliver 15,000 meals this year, but with the pandemic it has had to limit its efforts to keep its volunteers and families safe. 

“Our goal is 3,500 meals this year,” Ellinger said. 

While he has plenty of volunteers to cook, pack and deliver the meals, Ellinger said he needs standard size banker boxes in which to the pack the meals.

“People can also go to our website, BrassRail1.com, and make a donation either through our website or through PayPal,” he said. “Those are very welcomed and needed.”

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