By RICK HAYES
MT. VERNON — —
A holiday tradition that started 17 years ago will continue at Central Christian Church Thursday when a free Thanksgiving dinner will be served.
This year the dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the cafeteria at the District 80 Primary Center at 401 N. 30th St. due to construction at the church.
The first year the church fed about 100 people. In 2011, the dinner hosted around 1,650 people. This year, a group of volunteers is making preparation to serve 1,800 people.
Organizer Steve Reynolds said the tradition began when Dr. Oza had the passion to feed Mt. Vernon area residents. Reynolds took over the organization of the dinner the following year and it has grown every year since.
“There's been a lot of history in doing this type of thing,” said Reynolds. “We've been able to help get this organized and started in Centralia and Carlyle just by what we do here. We've trained them on how we do it. It seems like a job that's growing, and I know there's a need out there, and that's why we do it.”
He added, “No one wants to spend Thanksgiving alone. Maybe one day they can come in and fellowship with us and we can provide them with a good meal and spend some quality time just talking.”
The dinner will consist of traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, dressing, vegetables, hot rolls and homemade apple, blackberry and peach cobbler.
The church also delivers dinners for the Jefferson County meals on wheels program and the local fire and police departments. This year, for the first time, Central will deliver meals to Lifeboat Alliance.
The church will also be delivering meals to homes of elderly, disabled or homebound people. However, you must call the church at 242-4185 by noon Wednesday. There will be no general deliveries.
Many volunteers spend countless hours at the church in the time leading up to the meal, and with this year's meal being served in a different location, the need is even greater.
“Volunteer turnout is always great,” said Reynolds. “It's not uncommon to see 175- to 200-people on the signup sheet to come help, and there's a lot of tasks that need to be done. If nothing else, just to prepare the to-go meals, delivery drivers, washing dishes, cleaning up, etc. It takes a lot of people to make this happen. This year it's going to take more because we're doing the same thing, only in two different locations. Next year, we'll be back home. I think we have a good handle on what we need to do this year.”
In the past, Central has shared its Thanksgiving dinner with Calumet Christian Church in Centralia. However, this will be first year that church will be hosting their own event.
“We've been helping them at least five or six years. We wanted their ministry to grow so we decided we would help them with that. The fruits of their labor is that this year they will be taking it over for themselves. They expect to serve 500 to 600 people. In years past, they've maybe served 250 people. They're getting ready to see a huge jump in their attendance,” Reynolds said.
Preparation for the Thanksgiving dinner will begin in earnest today when volunteers arrive at the church at 9 a.m.
“We'll be getting everything ready and prepped to go, and we'll be doing the same thing Wednesday,” Reynolds said. “At 4 a.m. Thursday there is a whole crew that will come in and trim the turkeys, cooking the green beans and dressing and potatoes. It will be a busy morning.”
Reynolds said the church has about 700 pounds of boneless turkey in its freezer ready to be cooked.
“I think what we're doing is appreciated and well-needed,” Reynolds said. “On Thursday night or Friday morning, we'll be thinking about how to make things better for next year.”