‘You just gotta give’ Fedora church continues new Thanksgiving Day tradition

Public holiday meal began in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Paula Stevens, Candy Danek and Crystal Page prepare to-go Thanksgiving meals Thursday morning, Nov. 24, at Endeavor Presbyterian Church in Fedora. The church is in its third year of giving out the meals to anyone who wants one.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic
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FEDORA, S.D. — What started as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has turned into a new tradition of sorts for a rural South Dakota church.

Congregation members at the Endeavor Presbyterian Church in Fedora were once again serving up a Thanksgiving meal for the public Thursday at the small church in the miniature community with an official population of 26. That’s the official head count by the United States Census Bureau in 2020, but actual residents think it’s even smaller than that.

“Our town is only about 19 or 20 in town,” chuckled Dick Poppen, who serves as pastor at the church. “And I’m sure most people don’t know where it is.”

Bernita Burghardt organizes to-go Thanksgiving meals Thursday, Nov. 24 at Endeavor Presbyterian Church in Fedora.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

It’s a small church in a small town about 30 miles northeast of Mitchell, but it has a big sense of giving back to the public. That’s why, for going on three years now, members there are offering up a Thanksgiving meal to local residents. The event began as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when the disease was spreading around the country and large public gatherings were discouraged.

That meant many people were forced to abandon their traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family or friends. In an effort to bring some home cooking to those who were stuck at home, the church put together a Thanksgiving meal and provided delivery service to anyone in the area who called.


“When COVID-19 started we knew a lot of people were limited in getting out, so we had some meals prepared and set them out that year and just invited them to come and pick them up,” Poppen said. “And last year we decided to continue it.”

Poppen estimated that between 80 and 100 people take advantage of the offer each year. The church has the meals prepared at a caterer in De Smet and then has volunteers deliver the meals from the church or guests can pick them up Thanksgiving morning. Some church members also bring their own dishes to share.

This year, the church is expanding the project to include a sit-down meal at the church. With the COVID-19 pandemic waning, some community members who might not have anywhere else to go during the holiday may prefer to eat with company. If that is the case, volunteers at the church are happy to serve as a second family to those who may be looking for a little conversation with their meal.

“We will deliver or in some cases people may want to eat with others, and they can come by and eat with whomever is there,” Poppen said.

That may include the roughly dozen volunteers who man the roasters at the church kitchen to make sure the food heading out the door is hot and fresh. After the deliveries were all out the door, many planned to sit down and have a bite with the folks who walked through the door before they themselves headed out to later holiday family plans that evening.

Sharing fellowship with the holiday meal is important for many people, Poppen said, and the in-church meal was something the church wanted to add this year for folks who may not have had other options.

“And like most little towns, the restaurants are closed on Thanksgiving, so we weren’t actually competing against anybody, and that wasn’t the intent, either. But this would give people the opportunity to enjoy some good food,” Poppen said.

The church has members from around the region, including from the communities of Huron, Madison and Mitchell, along with other small communities. The church was originally founded in 1889 as a congregation, and church building itself was built in 1911, though Poppen said the structure has undergone some renovations over the years.


Wendi Peer prepares desserts for the Thanksgiving meals Thursday, Nov. 24 at Endeavor Presbyterian Church in Fedora.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

Bernita Burghardt was on hand Thursday working to assemble delivery meals. She said that although the Thanksgiving meal project is new, it’s fun to get together with fellow church members and a nice way to spend part of the holiday. It has also been a reminder that not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal at home.

“We were surprised how many people responded. There are a lot of people who are alone or not cooking with only two at home,” Burghardt said. “There really are more than you realize.”

Jeanie King was also busy in and around the kitchen, although she laughs off her appointed title of “kitchen boss.” Everyone at the church Thursday came together with a singular plan in mind — to help put together meals for folks who may not otherwise have access to them.

“I inherited the job years ago when the lady that was the kitchen boss left one day and said ‘Jeanie is in charge.’ But we don’t need a boss here, everybody just works together,” King said. “It’s like a family. It’s another family, and it’s a family church. It really is.”

While the church only boasts about 75 to 80 members, Poppen said the tradition of outreach remains strong with the congregation. The church works with a number of organizations, including the Safe Place of Eastern South Dakota in Mitchell and, appropriately, Feeding South Dakota, among others. Upstairs in the sanctuary sits a display of homemade dresses and hats that are bound for those in need overseas. A small food pantry shelf sits right inside the church entrance for people who may need something for the dinner table.

Dick Poppen, pastor at Endeavor Presbyterian Church in Fedora, said the annual Thanksgiving meal event at the church is just a part of the congregation's mission work. Above, he points out homemade goods destined for the needy overseas that are on display in the church sanctuary.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

“We still try to do some active ministry. About 70% of the income is sent back out into the mission work in the community and beyond. The majority of the money just goes back out to serve,” Poppen said.

The congregation’s focus on ministry was on display Thursday as meal deliveries went out the door and they prepared for hungry visitors to walk through them. Poppen said it was good to see.

“It’s worked out well, and we’ve enjoyed it and have always had a good volunteer group to put it together. It works out just fine,” Poppen said.


Corky Stevens was filling whatever role he was asked to Thursday morning, dishing up food and organizing to-go containers. As the rest of the volunteers bustled around him, he said it was important to acknowledge one’s blessings and pass them along to those who may not be so fortunate.

“I just try to help out – dishing out and stuff,” Stevens said. “You just gotta give. You just gotta give something.”

Breaking Bread Ministries serves hundreds at annual holiday event

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTA
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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