A plate full of warm turkey and dressing glazed with gravy became almost secondary for Victor Gonzalez, who was more interested in a conversation he sparked with a man he had just met.
Gonzalez, 52, told the man Thursday that he has very little in life compared to others, but he said he does not let that bother him.
“I don’t have much,” he said. “[But] that makes it easier for me to keep track of the blessings [I do have]. My family. Most people have too much to even count.”
About 35 round tables that could seat at least six people apiece were arranged and decorated with tablecloths and floral centerpieces in Calhoun Middle School’s cafeteria Thursday.
The Village Church held its 26th annual Thanksgiving meal at the school, offering a free meal and fellowship for the holiday.
Like Gonzalez, some people found the food provided to be a bonus, as many patrons said they felt like they were part of a community. They said they were thankful for the kindness of the church and its nearly 400 volunteers. Volunteers ranged from elementary school students who served rolls to grandparents who helped seat walk-ins.
“People seem to let their walls down when they eat,” said organizer and co-leader Leah Ann Madewell. “So this was the perfect time to meet someone new and make an impact.”
Enough food for about 2,000 people was cooked between Sunday and Thursday. Volunteers from the church cooked and baked from scratch using recipes they developed over the last 26 years.
The aroma of 240 pies, 86 turkeys, 34 gallons of green beans and 90 pounds of cranberries filled the Calhoun cafeteria, escaping outside into the surrounding neighborhood.
The festive smell acted as a hook to lure individuals and families to a free meal.
“We wanted to make sure we provided the best meals possible to people who probably can’t afford it,” said Joe Ader, a Village Church associate pastor. “We never want to be a soup kitchen where we push people through as quickly as possible. We want to sit with them to let them know that we really do care.”
Budget cuts have forced some churches and organizations to close their doors for the holidays, leaving some people without a place to go, he said.
“Fortunately, we haven’t had that problem,” Ader said. “We just wanted to make sure people don’t feel left out and that they feel part of a community.”
By 2 p.m., organizers and volunteers began to clean. Food left over from the event was donated to the Freedom House, which will have a Thanksgiving celebration from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Richard Tomlinson, volunteer and Village Church member, said Thursday was the first time he spent Thanksgiving away from his family. However, he said volunteering helped him share a connection with the community.
“Being away from your family helps you appreciate them a lot more,” he said. “It’s not all about food. It’s about realizing what you do have, instead of what you don’t have.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.