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Unseen Angels continue their good work

A parking lot at YMCA Camp St. Croix is a loading zone on Thanksgiving morning. Members of the Hudson High School wrestling team and other volunteers were loading pre-cooked dinners into the vehicles of volunteer drivers, who took them to needy people in 90 communities throughout western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities area. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)1 / 9
St. Croix County Court Commissioner Stephen Dunlap, right, talks to a volunteer driver while other volunteers carry boxes of Thanksgiving meals to her car. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson) 2 / 9
Lynda Miller of Hudson waits while a Hudson High School wrestler loads her vehicle with Thanksgiving dinners. The men in her family were deer hunting. “I just figured I could give back -- make a difference in someone’s life,” she said. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)3 / 9
An assembly line of volunteers packages family-size meals the day before Thanksgiving. Jodi Chu, front left, and Lara Frasier, front right, heard about Unseen Angels through Valley Outreach in Stillwater. They are both from Stillwater. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)4 / 9
Volunteers mash potatoes in the Camp St. Croix kitchen. From left are Jenna Thom of Ellsworth, Cat Ryther of Somerset, UW-Stout student Emmitt Foster of Somerset, and Beth Mondor of New Richmond. Mondor is Turner’s partner in leading Unseen Angels. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)5 / 9
Unseen Angels founder Tracy Turner displays a Thanksgiving card made by a Hudson elementary student that was delivered along with a meal. Students at River Crest and Houlton schools made cards for all of the families and individuals who received a dinner. At right is Noah Gerdts, a volunteer with Boy Scout Troop 148, sponsored by St. Patrick Catholic Church. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)6 / 9
Mayor Alan Burchill directs traffic. The approximately 200 volunteer drivers were given pick-up times to avoid the congestion that occurred the previous year. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)7 / 9
Lindsey Welch, right, a freshman at Hudson High School, assists Roger Bevers of Hudson, left, in organizing boxes of meals to be delivered on Thanksgiving Day. CapStone Container Corp. donates the boxes stamped with Unseen Angels logo. Hammond Cold Storage provides a refrigerated trailer to keep the meals in prior to delivery. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson)8 / 9
Hudson High School wrestling coach Chris Hansen visits with a fellow volunteer. Hudson wrestlers have provided the muscle for delivery day in recent years. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Randy Hanson) 9 / 9

There was a joyous atmosphere in the parking lot of YMCA Camp St. Croix on Thanksgiving morning.

After a week of hard work by countless volunteers, some 200 drivers were arriving to pick up and deliver Thanksgiving feasts to 10,378 people in 90 communities throughout western Wisconsin and the Twin Cities area.

“Good morning. Today is the day. This is our Super Bowl,” Unseen Angels founder and leader Tracy Turner had written on the charity’s Facebook page earlier in the morning. “Hudson wrestlers come at 8 to unload the trucks. Drivers start at 9. By 2 we exhale. We did it. Thank you all for making it happen.”

This was the seventh year that Unseen Angels has delivered pre-cooked Thanksgiving meals to people who might not have had one otherwise.

It started with serving six families in 2007. A renter in a duplex owned by Turner and her husband was alone, pregnant and wasn’t going to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

“Her rent was everything she had,” Turner, a Somerset resident, explains on the Unseen Angels website, “I left thinking as a mom it would break my heart not to be able to provide a basic Thanksgiving meal for my family.”

Turner organized a group of friends who cooked Thanksgiving dinners with all the fixings for the residents of the Turners’ six rental units. They delivered them anonymously on Thanksgiving morning.

“It has never been about the families knowing who or where the meal came from, but that they are making a Thanksgiving memory with their family, and knowing someone cared,” Turner says on the Unseen Angels website.

The program grew gradually at first. In 2008, 21 residents of Grace Place homeless shelter and seven more families were added to those served.

In 2011, it took a big leap, with 4,328 people in 52 cities served. The number of people served nearly doubled in 2012, and took another jump this year.

Numerous businesses have stepped up to help with the effort. This year, the meals were prepared in four kitchens -- Camp St. Croix’s dining hall, Ready Randy’s south of New Richmond, Kane’s Catering in St. Paul, and Kilkarney Hills Golf Course on the north side of River Falls.

Turner is grateful for the hundreds of volunteers who assist in preparing and delivering the meals.

“It’s not just my family anymore. My family has grown. It’s got about 1,000 members now,” she said while working in the Camp St. Croix dining hall the day before Thanksgiving.

Turner, 39, is a former employee of Roger Bevers, when he owned River Valley Abstract & Title in Hudson. Now he’s her assistant, working throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving to prepare and deliver the meals.

Thanksgiving morning, Bevers was joined by Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill, St. Croix County District Attorney Eric Johnson and St. Croix County Court Commissioner Stephen Dunlap in directing traffic and loading meals into the vehicles of the volunteer drivers.

Members of the Hudson High School wrestling team, led by Coach Chris Hansen and his wife, Jenny, did the lifting.

Sarah Wang and Troy and Tracy Miller of Hudson were greeting drivers and providing them with their routes.

Volunteer driver Brian Wert was headed to six stops in Minneapolis. “It’s a nice thing,” he said.

“My guys are all hunting and I’m alone today. I just figured I could give back -- make a difference in someone’s life today,” said first-time volunteer driver Lynda Miller of Hudson.

All of the meals included a Thanksgiving card made by a student at River Crest or Houlton elementary schools.

Turner posted a message from one of the dinner recipients on the Unseen Angels Facebook page to explain why she and the volunteers do what they do.

“It’s amazing how fast a person’s financial status can change in a blink of an eye,” the woman wrote. “I never thought I’d be in the situation I currently am, with two small children, my health is not good at all, and I’m still waiting for my disability to be approved. With no income, no family, the holidays now bring me to tears knowing I can’t afford anything.

“When I was informed of your program, my heart was overjoyed. I can’t put into words how much you Angels have touched my family’s life.”

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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