Traditions interrupted as Lansing faces a COVID Thanksgiving

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The Hertel family pigskin will have a blank on it for 2020.

State Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr. said the football has been used in an annual Thanksgiving Day family football game for decades. At the end of each game, the score is written on the football.  But the spiraling crisis of COVID-19 has left his family with no other choice: They won’t meet for the annual feast, hence the family football won’t have the score of the family game for 2020 written on it.

“This year we decided this was the right thing to do,” said Hertel, an East Lansing Democrat, speaking of his family, which includes his brother State Rep. Kevin Hertel. “We hope the sacrifices this year allow us to get together at Christmas or next year and everyone is still around to join us. That’s important.”

Instead, Hertel, who said he loves to cook, will host a turkey spread for just his wife and children.

Hertel is not alone in changing his holiday plans in the wake of a steep increase of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths. He and others are heeding the advice of politicians and health experts who have been pleading for weeks for Americans to cancel or amend their holiday plans.

For the first time in 43 years, Amanda Macomber will not be gathering with her extended family on the family farm in Lake Odessa. Macomber, of Charlotte, said the decision to shut down the annual gathering, was made over family email two weeks ago.

She noted the gathering involved multiple generations of family, some of whom work on the front lines, potentially coming in contact with the virus. “You just don’t want to mess around with it,” she said of the virus. “Not to go sucks. This is when we traditionally see everyone.”

For East Lansing resident Ryan Smith, the safety precautions including enforced mask wearing, limited numbers of people and social distancing allowed his family to make the decision to go to Disney World in Orlando. The trip was planned two and half months ago, when national numbers of new cases were not shattering records of over a 100,000 new cases a day.

Despite Disney’s strict mask policies and adherence to social distancing, the park recently increased capacity from 25 percent to 35 percent.

“I do have some apprehension about the capacity,” he said. “But most of the park is outdoors,  and they have been very good about masks.”

He said the trip would be a “once-in-a-lifetime” journey for his children, who are 6 and 9. The family will leave later this week for Orlando on a flight from the Lansing airport. He said he and his family will quarantine for 14 days when they return from the trip. 

“The virus is never going to go away,” he said. Safety precautions like masks will “become the new sense of normalcy.”

Over in Williamston, Sean Bertolino and his family have decided to cancel the turkey day gathering with his sister and her new husband and his family. He said he was “disappointed.”

“I get it, you just wouldn’t want anything happening,” he said.

Lansing resident Jeffrey Wood said he and his husband will host a smaller gathering in his home — only five guests instead of the usual 10 to 15. He said the dinner will be served buffet style and everyone will be required to be masked except when eating or drinking.

Over in Grand Ledge, former State Sen. Rick Jones said his family canceled its annual gatherings as well. He and his wife would traditionally break bread with both sides of their family at separate events, usually served up buffet style.

“Charlene’s family planned a large gathering, too big for a home,” Jones said of his wife. “So it was set for a church hall.”

Jones’ side of the family usually went out to eat, but that was also canceled. On Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Department of Health and Human Services issued new health guidance for the state, banning indoor dining starting today for three weeks.

Missy Austin, of Lansing, has spent 25 years in retail merchandising, but she’s on leave from her job out of concerns over COVID. The pandemic has caused her family to radically shift plans. Usually, her husband and she gather with their daughters and their husbands to celebrate. But not this year. This year, one daughter will host her own turkey dinner in her home. The other daughter will do “drive by, curbside visits” with family around the state.

“We’ll go out and say ‘hi’ and talk for a little bit,” she said of the planned curbside Thanksgiving.

The decision not gather for Austin’s family was actually driven by younger members of the family out of concerns of exposing older family members, Austin said.

“I’d rather sacrifice Thanksgiving holding out hope we can get together for Christmas,” she said.

This story is paid for by readers like you through contributions to the CityPulse Fund for Community Journalism. To contribute, please go to lansingcitypulse.com/donation.

How to get a Thanksgiving meal delivered to you

Delivering meals to those in need this Thanksgiving is a goal that has not changed despite the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The spread of the virus has caused churches and community centers in the Lansing area to cancel their annual in-person Thanksgiving dinner events this year. Thanksgiving Day is Nov. 26. 

Meals will get to people in the community in other ways. 

The Cristo Rey Community Center originally planned to deliver at least 150 meals this year, CEO Joe Garcia said Monday. 

“Chances are we’re going to do more. There’s no science to this. Just good intentions,” Garcia said. 

Blondie’s Barn in Haslett will distribute pre-packaged meals to be distributed in the parking lot. 

“We started this Thanksgiving meal seven years ago as a way to give back to the community,” said Andrew Manuel, owner of Blondie’s Barn. “Over time, we realized how rewarding it is and how much it feels like family, even when people are sitting together who didn’t know each other.  And while we can’t dine together, this year is more important than ever to try to connect those who are lonely and isolated with a bit of hope and kindness.”

Here’s what you need to know about how to obtain a meal if you need it on Thanksgiving Day:

Cristo Rey Community Center, 1717 N. High St., Lansing, (517) 372-4700

Contact the center directly to order a meal delivery and for more information. The meals will consist of items such as turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Meals will be delivered from 10 a.m. to noon on Thanksgiving Day. Meal packages can also be picked up from noon to 2 p.m. at the center. Call Cristo Rey Community Center for more information

St. Gerard Catholic Church, 4437 W. Willow Highway, Lansing

No Thanksgiving Community Dinner will be taking place at the church this year. Instead, meals will be delivered from 12:30-3:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day to homes of people requesting meals. However, the church’s first come, first serve list is full, according to Mike Hudson, a community dinner organizer with the church. Anyone seeking a meal through St. Gerard Catholic Church is being asked to contact the Cristo Rey Community Center at (517) 372-4700 to set up either a pick up or delivery.

City Rescue Mission of Lansing, 2216 S. Cedar St., Lansing, (517) 485-0145

Take out meals available.  Sign up to receive a meal is 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 26. Traditional Thanksgiving meal items will be provided. Contact City Rescue Mission of Lansing for more information.

Blondie’s Barn, 5640 Marsh Road Haslett, (517) 339-4600

Pre-packaged meals will be available to pick up curbside. Pick up meals from noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 26. Participation in the event is free. No pre-registration is required. Anyone picking up a meal is asked to wear a mask. Contact Blondie’s Barn for more information.

Columbian Hall, 1108 N. US 27, St. Johns, (989) 292-0972

Clinton County Thanksgiving Celebration and Dinner. Obtain takeout orders Noon to 2 p.m. Nov. 26. To order a meal or for more information, call or visit www.ccthanksgiving.org or clintoncommunitythanksgivingcelebrationanddinner.org/contact

VFW Post No. 8964, 614 S. Main St., Ovid, (989) 666-0444

Take-out orders only. Meals contain turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and a dessert. To make sure you receive a meal, preorder by Monday, Nov. 23. Some meals may be delivered to seniors only in Ovid. Contact the Lions Club of Ovid at or email lynden@icloud.com to preorder a meal or for more information.

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