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Bemidji Soup Kitchen and Lutheran Women’s Club

November 20, 2013

Minnesota – Thursday, November 7


I ended up in Blackduck last night and stayed in a cute little mom-and-pop motel last night called the Drake Motel. I’m in hunting and fishing country and there was a big sign by the sink asking people not to clean fish in their rooms (no worries about me doing that – ha!). But they do provide a heated fish cleaning room and freezer storage for people who need those services! I’ve stayed in several little motels along the way, and many of the older ones probably shouldn’t still be in the motel business – some of them seem like they’re trying to milk every last dollar out of it that they can. But the Drake Motel still had character and cleanliness to it, and all of the rooms were decorated in a different theme, with little crafty decorations (I had the tractor room) – places like this still offer a bit of travel charm from the 60s!


Tula and I set off for a little walking in Blackduck, and I was to discover in the next few days that northern Minnesotans seem to be fond of large sculptures – and Blackduck had a couple big black duck sculptures to memorialize their town. They also were advertising a hunters dinner (which I saw more than once – deer hunting season apparently starts Saturday, so places offer free meals, sometimes followed by a church service!)


Then I drove a half hour or so to Bemidji, on the shores of Bemidji Lake, which the Mississippi River flows through. Bemidji is actually a Chippewa word that means “lake with river flowing through.” It is also the home of the big statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox – good lumberman lore! Bemidji is also the curling capital of the world. I had found out that there was a Community Soup Kitchen in Bemidji which served meals 3 nights a week at a couple different churches. Thursday was one of their days, and I left a couple messages to find out how to go about making a donation. Tula and I took a walk along the lake, and then I put her in the car while I set off for about 2 1/2 hours – did a  long 8 mile walk along the lakeside and through some parks, a neighborhood and around the campus of Bemidji State University. It was a gorgeous day out and a wonderful walk. I could have just kept going and going! Along the way I passed a big banner advertising a Lutefisk and Meatball Dinner at the local Lutheran church and it was for tonight. Lutefisk is one of those weird things that Scandinavians eat around the holidays, but it is not really a popular dish. But in Lutheran country like Minnesota, different churches start offering lutefisk dinners in November, and I knew I would come back later today and get my fill of lutefisk for the year. It was also going to be my fallback donation for today since this was the First Lutheran Church Women’s Club biggest fundraiser of the year. They in turn help provide food for food pantries and soup kitchens and other services for the needy.


By the time I got back to the van, I still hadn’t heard back from the Soup Kitchen people, but I was also happy with making a donation to the Lutheran Women’s Club. I got Tula out and we walked almost another mile in the historic part of downtown Bemidji and ran across a yellow submarine.  By then I had discovered the church that was sponsoring the soup kitchen meal was only a couple blocks away from the lutefisk church, so I decided to stop by to see if anyone was there. Not only were the volunteers there, but they were shorthanded for serving the meal, and roped me in to help! They were very happy with the donation, and I helped them set up some tables and then we sat around and visited for a while til the doors opened at 5:00 (the soup kitchen meals are prepared at the churches since they have big commercial kitchens.) They had put table coverings and fall decorations on all the community tables to make things look nice. Dinner tonight was pork gravy or beef stew over biscuits, pasta salad, fresh carrots and cucumbers, juice or milk and a variety of donated desserts. I served the carrots and cucumbers and poured the drinks. Everyone had to wear either a hat or a hair net, so I went back to the car for one of my hats. There was a busy rush right at 5 (there had been a line outside the door) – families with kids, and other people coming in by themselves or small groups. There were maybe about 80 people or so – the numbers fluctuate of course which makes it challenging to know how much food to prepare. People continued to trickle in, but it got pretty quiet by 5:30. The guests were allowed to come back for seconds around 5:30 when the initial line was gone, and at 6:00 when the dinner was over, they could pick up meals to go if they wanted. There was a volunteer group from the local juvenile detention home that came in for a meal, and then they were responsible for doing all the dishes and mopping floors and all. The other volunteers invited me to stay for dinner, but I had my heart set on a big lutefisk dinner, so I said goodbye, and drove the couple blocks over to the other church.


The first Lutheran church was packed, and people had be seated in shifts. I made a donation to the Women’s Club when I bought my dinner ticket, and they were also pleased, and a couple of them went out of their way to thank me during the dinner. Several of the ladies were dressed in traditional Norwegian dress and it was fun to listen to where the different parts of the outfits came from. There were different musical groups in church to entertain the people who were waiting. My number was called after about a half hour and we sat family style at big tables. It was truly a feast. Hot lutefisk with pitchers of melted butter (the same guy has cooked the lutefisk for 50 years), meatballs, boiled potatoes, carrots, lefse, and pumpkin pie for dessert. They would bring out as much food as people wanted (mostly older folks – the young ‘uns don’t like the lutefisk!) and I had seconds. It was a wonderful meal. My table mates were a young couple expecting their first baby, and the wife was game to try the lutefisk – she had heard eating a whole variety of food was good for the baby, so I give her credit for that – but she did not have seconds!


I had packed a lot into today – 2 fun donations and serving a dinner, and walking a little over 10 miles. I was happy to get in the car and drive about an hour northwest to Fosston, where I stopped for the night.


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