After more than two decades, the Ellis County Community Thanksgiving Feast has become a holiday tradition. That tradition will continue this year, but with some changes.

Once again, the dinner will be on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, at the Rose Garden Banquet Hall, 2530 E. Eighth. The doors will open for seating at 11:30 a.m. The buffet line will serve guests from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Around 700 guests are expected, said the Rev. Celeste Lasich, pastor at First Presbyterian Church. She is co-chairing this year’s organizing committee along with Linda Mills, executive director of First Call for Help.

This is the 12th year that the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance will be sponsoring the event. ECMA buys all the food, and the staff at the Rose Garden prepares it. This is the sixth year the event will be at this venue.

The menu this year will be the same: turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, hot rolls and pie. While the dinner is free, “monetary donations will be gratefully accepted the day of the event,” Lasich said.

One major change this year is the ECMA will not be handing out bags of groceries at the dinner. Laura Allen with First Call for Help, said, “Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen event, the group that has put these bags together in the past has been unable to do so this year.”

Another change is the ACCESS van will not be providing transportation to and from the venue. Allen said this is a result of the difficulty in finding volunteer drivers willing to work on Thanksgiving and the relatively few number of riders served last year.

To-go meals and delivered meals are also being handled differently this year.

To-go meals are for able-bodied people who choose not to come to the dinner, but would still like a meal, Allen said. This year, those meals must be reserved in advance by Tuesday, Nov. 26.

People may call the First Call for Help Office, 785-623-2800, between the hours of 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4:30 p.m. weekdays to make their reservations. To-go meals must be picked up at the Rose Garden between 1 and 1:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. No reservations will be accepted that day, she emphasized.

Meals will still be delivered “to people unable to get out,” Allen said, but these meals also must be reserved in advance in the same fashion by Tuesday, Nov. 26. Meal deliveries will be made beginning at 11:30 a.m. the day of the feast.

One thing that has not changed is the need for volunteers, Allen said. About 120 people are needed to help with set-up and cleanup, help direct cars in the parking lot, assist with serving or seating and make meal deliveries.

This year, volunteers will be able to sign up using a new online portal created by the United Way of Ellis County. That website is www.nwksvolunteers.org, then clicking on “Volunteer Now,” then clicking on “Community Thanksgiving Dinner.”

Or, volunteers may call the First Call for Help office at the number listed above. Allen said volunteers can request what they want to do, “but there is no guarantee” every person’s request can be honored.

She noted that for people who will be out of town on Thanksgiving Day, volunteer opportunities are available on the Tuesday and Wednesday leading up to the holiday helping with the dinner’s set-up.

Lasich said, “We have a whole pool of volunteers who have been doing this for years and who have a lot of insights into how to make this a welcoming event.”

The deadline for volunteer signup is Tuesday, Nov. 26.

Allen said one of the things about the feast that she looks forward to every year is seeing “the many multi-generational families who come to avoid all the work of meal preparation at home. Then they can go home and do fun activities the rest of the afternoon.”

Lasich said the ECMA has continued to sponsor the dinner because “the Ellis County Thanksgiving Feast is one of the best opportunities for people in the county to come together, eat together and learn about their community and give thanks.

“For me, it is always delightful to see people eating together who come in as strangers and leave as friends.”