For 364 days of the year, the showroom at Watertown Ford Chrysler is the stage for polished, new models from the Ford, Lincoln, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram lineups. On the 365th day, at least for the past 14 years, the showroom is emptied and transformed into a banquet hall where hundreds of guests dine on a free Thanksgiving dinner.
This year will mark the 15th consecutive year Scott and Jodi Driscoll, members of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, will host a Thanksgiving Day feast with all the trimmings at their Watertown, S.D., dealership. Everyone is welcome. And for those unable to travel to the dealership, dinner will be delivered. Hot meals are also catered to those who have to work the holiday at the Watertown Police Department and to county inmates.
The event, which began in 2002, started as a family affair. It’s now a tradition for other families who volunteer to serve in the food line, wait tables and make deliveries.
“The idea came up at our combined family Thanksgiving dinner in 2001,” Scott Driscoll said. “In the retail business, we are always open the Friday following Thanksgiving so we don’t travel for the holiday. Jodi’s mom is a great cook and offered to help prepare the meal. We wouldn’t have started this without our family’s commitment to volunteer.”
The community event is also an undeniable reflection of their faith.
Jodi Driscoll’s personal philosophy is, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by God’s grace, I will do.”
Both he and Jodi come from “strong faith families,” Scott Driscoll said.
The first year they hosted the meal, their families served and delivered 250 meals; last year, 575 meals, including deliveries, were served.
The meal includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, dinner roll, cranberries and, most importantly, Driscoll said, pumpkin pie with whipped topping.
“All are welcome,” he said. “We encourage those who cannot afford it, those who would otherwise be alone, the couple whose kids are not coming home until the weekend. Anyone who doesn’t have a place to go on that day, we’re here for the fellowship.”
Jodi Driscoll and her mother, Janice Michels, start preparing food three days before Thanksgiving, chopping the celery, onions and carrots for the stuffing. Michels travels from Breckenridge, Minn., to help.
“We really do cook all the food,” Scott Driscoll said. “We cook and slice 24 turkeys the day before. We set up the showroom the night before. We park the cars outside and fill it up with tables and chairs, including all the condiments you would have at home for a meal.”
The event is widely advertised the week before Thanksgiving on local radio stations and in the local newspaper. Dealership staff take delivery orders, and Jodi Driscoll sorts and organizes deliveries based on addresses.
Volunteers describe the process as a well-oiled machine.
Lisa Dahl has volunteered for the past six years. She and her family found it to be a way to heal after the death of her nephew in October 2014. It was the family’s first Thanksgiving without him. He was on his way home from college when he was killed.
“Jacob was such a caring and faithful young man,” Dahl said. “Helping at the Driscoll Thanksgiving was a way for our family to be together and give back to the community in which Jacob lived.”
Janel Butts, one of Jodi’s sisters, has volunteered for seven of the past 14 years.
“It’s a family affair,” Butts said. “We have always been with family and have always had enough to eat. Some aren’t that fortunate.”
Scott Driscoll gives the credit for their annual tradition to God: “God has blessed us with enough to be shared with others. It’s one of the ways we give back to the community that has been so good to us. God will provide—we are just helping out while we are on our earthly journey. God is good.”