As someone who witnesses the effects of poverty and need every month, Doris Mezzenga knows the meaning of Thanksgiving.
Mezzenga is the director/coordinator of the Crosslake Food Shelf. With donations from Reed’s Market in Crosslake, Pequot Lakes Super Valu and generous Crosslake area residents, the food shelf helped 56 families have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that they may have missed otherwise.
“Everybody should be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner,” Mezzenga said. “It’s just rewarding to see the people’s faces when they say, ‘We get to have a turkey?’ and we say, ‘Yes, you get to have a Thanksgiving just like everybody else.’”
Mezzenga grew up and graduated from school in Pine Island. She grew up on a farm where the family always had big Thanksgiving dinners.
“It was always at Grandma’s. I had seven aunts and uncles. They all had three or four kids. We always had Thanksgiving at Grandma’s and everybody brought food. It was always a great big, huge buffet,” Mezzenga said.
She married her first husband out of high school and had four children: Michael, Melissa, Marney and Mindy. Shortly after having Mindy in 1978, her husband was transferred to Consolidated Telephone in Brainerd. They moved during Independence Day weekend.
“I worked at St. Joseph’s Medical Center on the midnight shift. I worked there for a while and then got a job at the sheriff’s department. I started as a dispatcher/jailer part time and just kind of moved up the ranks,” Mezzenga said.
Mezzenga’s time with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Department began in 1982. She later became full time and worked in the record’s department. She then worked for four years as administrative secretary, and finally became a full-time dispatcher. She worked with the department for 25 years.
“It was different every day with the goofy calls, with people calling because their power was out or their TV didn’t work and they are calling 911 to tell you that,” Mezzenga said. “They would call and report a driving complaint and the only information they would have was it was a white car. Those calls were crazy. I always wished I had written a book.”
By this time, Mezzenga had divorced. In 1990 she married Jan Mezzenga, a sheriff’s deputy she met through work. They moved to Crosslake in 1997. Her husband has four children of his own: Jim, Eve and twins Chad and Jason.
Together, the family made for more big holiday dinners that included her in-laws. The Mezzenga holiday table was set with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, broccoli or green beans with olive oil and garlic, apple pie, pumpkin pie and always rutabagas. Though Mindy passed away 20 years ago and the rest of her children have their own families, Mezzenga still cooks for Thanksgiving and her children, now with 10 grandchildren among them, come when they are able.
Between her rewarding careers, her big family and all the good in her life, Mezzenga has taken to using her spare time to give back.
“I feel very, very blessed being able to pay my bills. I just feel very blessed, and if there is anything I can do to help other people feel the same way then that’s the way I am,” Mezzenga said. “There are so many less fortunate people in the world. This is a great service to be able to give food and the generosity of the people of Crosslake is fabulous, so we’re able to give out turkeys at Thanksgiving.”
Before her 2007 retirement, Mezzenga began working with the Crosslake Food Shelf while her father-in-law, August (Augie) Mezzenga, was the director. The shelf was then in the basement of what is now the Crosby Piano Bar. Even then the shelf gave out turkey for the holidays.
“He passed away in 2008 and I was just able to move right in. I kind of knew what to do,” Mezzenga said.
During Augie’s time the shelf served about 20 families per month and operated once a month. By 2009, the local need had grown and Mezzenga started offering service twice a month. Today, the Crosslake Food Shelf serves around 60 families on a monthly basis.
Between paperwork, gathering produce, packing boxes and general prep work, Mezzenga puts about 30-40 hours of work into the food shelf each month.
“The paperwork is usually what takes the longest,” she said.
Mezzenga’s charity work does not stop with the food shelf.
She also works at the Clothes Closet in Crosslake where she helps to provide clothing and household goods to those in need. She and her husband also keep a storage shed full of lightly used furniture such as beds, couches, kitchen tables and dressers that they provide to needy individuals and families. They work with Salem West in Deerwood to make sure they always have what people need.
“If somebody calls me and says they need a dining room table and chairs, if I don’t have it then I can call Salem West and see if they have it,” Mezzenga said.
Mezzenga’s husband also helps with her charitable groups, including the food shelf. Mezzenga is a member of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and vice president of the Brainerd/Baxter Women’s Bowling Association. She likes to bowl twice a week and recently bought a new bowling ball after 12 years.