Community Thanksgiving meals feel ‘just like home’

November 23, 2018

Somerset County organizations and volunteers spent Thursday providing free home-cooked Thanksgiving meals for hundreds of residents.

Salvation Army Somerset Service Center Director Tracy Rhoads said 318 residents were served at the organization’s dinner at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Somerset last year, and they were looking to do the same amount of business this year.

“Our motto is that nobody should ever eat alone on Thanksgiving,” she said.

The 20-year-long event was created for people who could not afford a Thanksgiving meal or share one with family, and originally served 30 people. Rhoads said volunteers wanted to provide a place in the community where people could have a great meal.

“There’s no requirements, no income guidelines, we’re just here to serve the community,” she said.

More than 50 volunteers from as far as Pittsburgh came to serve residents turkey, mashed potatoes and other traditional Thanksgiving foods.

Eli Holp, 11, from Markleysburg, was helping residents to their seats and helping serve them food.

“I wanted to help out the community,” he said.

In the Salisbury Church of the Brethren, volunteers were also producing dinners at the Faith Factory. Coordinator Tammy Hoover said the tradition started eight years ago to have a place for people who are alone to have a free meal and a family atmosphere.

“The first year there was hardly anybody coming in,” she said.

But last year, the church served more than 200 people and provided deliveries of food throughout the borough and into Meyersdale. More than 100 of those people came to eat at the Faith Factory and enjoy time with their neighbors and family members.

“We want them to come in and feel like they are sitting at home, and having a Thanksgiving dinner,” Hoover said.

Karl Bowers, from Kilgore, Ohio, said he was stopping in Salisbury to visit family, and he was told to come down and try the food.

“Almost reminds me of the turkey my mother made,” He said. “Feels like I never left home.”

AAA projected 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, which is a 4.8 percent increase over last year. Bowers said he doesn’t mind the distance it takes to see his family in Pennsylvania, but it does cut into time spent at the dinner table.

“It does take time away from getting to sit down and enjoy a bird, so it’s nice when someone else is willing to prepare one for you,” he said.

Hoover said she’s really thankful that volunteers can provide something like this for the community.

She said donations from residents both in and out of the community help to keep dinners like this possible, and that allows volunteers to make sure residents feel like it’s a second home.

“We get a lot of comments like that, that it’s just like sitting down and eating at home,” she said.

Rhoads said Thanksgiving to her is about spending time with those you love and making memories, and events like the free dinners in the community help do just that.

“If we are able to make memories for some family and pay it forward for them, than that’s what our goal is,” she said.

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