The Pilgrims would have been proud of Thursday’s Thanksgiving gathering at First Baptist Church in Mount Airy.
Though no one was spotted in Colonial clothing or wearing Native American headdresses reminiscent of America’s first Thanksgiving, the event was all-encompassing nonetheless.
“It involves the whole community and just makes the whole community feel like family,” Daris Roemer summed-up while waiting tables for the 16th-annual Thanksgiving dinner sponsored by singer Melva Houston. Roemer has volunteered for the gathering each year it has been held and said she’s literally seen participants go from children to adults during that time, mentioning that her own daughters Carolina and Jeanette Wall were assisting as well.
The free meal in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church typically draws 400 people, a mark Houston believes was reached fairly early Thursday with people lining up for the dinner well before noon. “And we didn’t even start serving until 12,” she said of the event that was open to everyone.
“To that man living on the hill to that man sleeping under the bridge,” Houston said of the universal nature of the dinner served in the large dining room of the church. “This is the one day they can be brought together.”
Clifton Willis of White Plains attended the annual Thanksgiving event for the first time, along with his wife Lynn and daughter Katelyn, 8. He explained that a family gathering was planned today, but the three were at a loss for something to do on Thursday.
“So it means a lot,” Willis said of the opportunity to be around a group of people, who enjoyed a feast of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, bread and a wide dessert list.
“This is the whole reason we do this,” Houston said of the gathering spawned by a group called Friends of a Brighter Community. The internationally known performing artist emphasized that while soup kitchens are in place to cater to the poor, the local dinner is about bringing people together from all walks of life.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Houston remarked.
Especially targeted are people who must work on Thanksgiving Day, others without family in the area or single-member households where cooking a big meal is impractical. “There are a lot of people who live alone, but why have a turkey for one person?” Houston reasoned.
Patricia Sebens of Cana, Va., another volunteer for the dinner since its origins, said the flavor of the gathering has remained unchanged since the beginning. She pointed to Thursday’s crowd that included people of different races, religious denominations, ages and social classes.
“It was all in an effort to come together, to do something positive for the community,” Sebens said of its launching in the 1990s.
Houston said the meal is made possible with the help of food donations from area restaurants and other businesses, along with individuals. This included one man from Huntersvillle who brought six turkeys that she guessed weighed 35 pounds each. That individual, a professional chef, even cooked the birds and continued to work in the church kitchen during the afternoon.
“I cooked all the stuffing,” Houston said proudly.
Thursday’s event was scheduled to last until at least 4 p.m., and after the initial rush people continued to trickle in throughout the day.
Mount Airy Mayor Deborah Cochran was among those donning hairnets and aprons to serve as volunteer waiters. Cochran usually helps out at different Thanksgiving events, but Thursday marked her first time volunteering for the meal at First Baptist Church.
“It’s real heartfelt just to see the community come together,” she said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.