LA CROSSE, Wis. -- -

The La Crosse community has been through a lot this year.

While the trials will not be forgotten, Thursday was a chance for the community to come together and celebrate a day of thanks.

Thousands of community members came down to the La Crosse Center to share a meal at the La Crosse Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

It's a 30-plus year old tradition in the Coulee Region.

Whether it's someone's first time, or they've been coming for years, community members said there's no doubt the event is living up to its name.

For some like Andy Polluck, the La Crosse Community Thanksgiving Dinner is a new way to celebrate the holiday.

"This is the first time. It was good. It was really good. I'm full and the food was great," said Polluck.

For others like Roger and Karen Vogt, it's a long-standing tradition.

"We've come for eight or nine years at least. We used to help here. We used to do work. We did a lot of things with deliveries and so forth but we aren't doing that this year," said Karen.

"We're slowing down in our old age," said Roger.

But new experience or not, all agree it's an event that shows just how special the La Crosse community is.

"It shows that one of the reasons I keep moving back here. I've moved away several times. This is really a great place to live. There's always a great spirit here," said Polluck.

"We see people we haven't seen in a while. It's a great gathering of La Crosse people," said Roger.

According to the Rev. Ellen Rasmussen, it's not only a time of fellowship, but of healing.

"We've had a lot of trials and tribulation this year. There've been a lot of challenges but the community continues to pull together and to be able to come together in joy instead of grief and come together in hope and laughter is a great blessing for everyone," said Rasmussen.

While the food is good, it's the people that keep this dinner a long-standing tradition for many in the La Crosse community.

"I've always loved turkey and cranberry sauce. I've always loved pumpkin pie. So everything was good. There wasn't anything I didn't eat. I ate it all," said Polluck.

"It's something that we know we can do and we don't have to stay home since we don't have family that's real close except for our daughter. This is just something we can do that we can come down here and enjoy other people's company," said Karen.

The dinner is free and is all made possible by donations from the community.

It costs about $25,000 to put on the event.