Salvation Army scraps tradition, prepares for different holiday celebrations

Just days after Wisconsin's top health official urged people to scrap Thanksgiving gatherings, charities are also altering plans to serve those in need this holiday season.

Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions will be different in the pandemic.

The coronavirus is disrupting yet another Milwaukee tradition. The 31st annual Christmas Family Feast will not look like years past when 8,000 people would gather for a Christmas Day dinner.

"We all look forward to that day. There's such a buzz in the room at the Wisconsin Center on Christmas Day just bringing the community together," Major Steven Merritt said.

Roughly 1,400 volunteers help pull it off. Major Merritt says his organization met with Wisconsin Center leaders this week to discuss logistics of the event. Many of the guests have nowhere else to go — or no family members to celebrate with.

"We probably are going to lose a piece of that this year," he said. "Unfortunately, there's no way around that."

Major Steven Merritt

Don't wait for the holidays. Merritt urges everyone to safely check in on vulnerable or lonely friends and neighbors. The Christmas dinner will shift to take-out and only limited seating is being planned at this time inside the building. If you think we're getting ahead of ourselves talking about Christmas...

"We've gotten pretty good at this!" said Dan Brown, Milwaukee Rescue Mission Vice President of Programs.

The Milwaukee Rescue Mission already has plans in place to serve 150 of its guests a full Thanksgiving feast following coronavirus guidelines.

"Guests will come up, they'll be seated at tables. They'll be appropriately distanced. A table for normally 8 will have 4 people at it," Brown said.

Dan Brown

Masked volunteers will distribute food to assigned tables. There's also a plan in place to deliver food baskets to hundreds of families in need next month.  

The Salvation Army in Waukesha tells us they normally serve 150 for thanksgiving.  Waukesha is still waiting to see if they will be able to hold their meal indoors or if to-go will be needed there too.