It was a day to be grateful for good food, good friends and good people who could have easily stayed at home to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but instead cooked, set tables and served others their meals.
Community members in Havre de Grace and Aberdeen had another place to go Thursday if they weren't able to cook their own Thanksgiving meal, didn't have the means to or simply just wanted to share the holiday with some other friendly faces.
Havre de Grace High School's student community group SMILES (Service Makes an Individual's Life Extra Special) wasted no time at Saint Patrick Hall getting meals together to deliver and setting up tables with festive tablecloths for the crowd that began to trickle in at 11 a.m.
Volunteers lined up nearly out the door to receive the Thanksgiving meals of individually wrapped portions of rolls, turkey, cranberry sauce and pie that they would deliver. Others put out large bowls of salad, hot food and greeted people as they walked in and sat down. Even former SMILES members who had graduated high school came back to help.
It was Karen Sharrow's first time volunteering for the SMILES annual dinner. Sharrow, who lives in Abingdon, said her daughter was also there as part of Patterson Mill High School's Fellowship of Christian Athletes group, as was her husband, who were assigned to pick up local residents and bring them to the hall. Sharrow would be working the serving line that day.
"It's a time to minister to people who don't have anything or very little," she said about why she volunteered that day. "It's an opportunity to give back. We're very blessed."
Kayla Little, a senior at Havre de Grace High School, has been with SMILES since her freshman year, but this was the first year she had been able to help at the event.
She mentioned that in previous years she didn't have the time to volunteer, but she had told her family that she'd be late to dinner so she could be there that day.
"I really wanted to help people, the needy and underprivileged," Kayla said. She mentioned that they were expecting to serve 600 meals Thursday. "A lot of food has been prepared."
As people began to take their seats, volunteers, young and old, approached them and asked if they needed anything. Most were just happy to be there and were engrossed in conversations with their friends, family and neighbors.
Abingdon resident Phyllis and John Fenwick volunteered, but were also there to enjoy a hot meal. Afterward, they were going to their son's home for dessert. Phyllis Fenwick commented on how good the SMILES group was for putting the event all together and "helping the homeless and needy. It's a very generous program."
Kevin Racine, of Havre de Grace, sat at the same table as the Fenwicks. He said he hasn't missed volunteering a single year in the dinner's 24-year history.
"It's what I do," Racine said about volunteering. "If not here, then [I help] in Baltimore." He mentioned that he's worked at the Bea Gaddy Family Center in Baltimore, as well as worked with the homeless and disabled. Racine, he said, is disabled himself.
"You just need to take care of the people," he said.
At the Aberdeen firehouse, 10 long tables were set, while servers manned a buffet line near the kitchen and several women sat behind a table covered in slices of pie and cake. A table near the hall's entrance was stacked with clothes people had donated.
The annual community dinner sponsored by Evangelistic Church of Deliverance had originally taken place at the church nearly 20 years ago, but as it grew it was moved to the fire hall.
Frankie Tildon, of Havre de Grace, sat behind the dessert table with her sister. The two, who attend the church, have been volunteering at the dinner for more than 10 years.
She said they were expecting 100 people to walk through the hall's door that day for a meal, and 70 meals being delivered out into the community.
"I like interacting with the people and feeling like I gave back to the community," she said about why she had been volunteering all those years.
Pastor Patricia Pringle started it years back after she was diagnosed with lung and breast cancer a month before Thanksgiving. She said she prayed and prayed, as well as others who knew her, and when she went to the hospital for a test, doctors couldn't find any trace of cancer left in her body.
"That is my reason I gave up my Thanksgiving," Pringle said matter of factly. She had a new lease on life and wanted to do as much as she could to give back to the community that rallied behind her. "I'm not doing it for me. I'm doing it for God and these people."
Pringle, who wore a blue apron with her named stitched in white, and the other volunteers cook all of the food, some in their own homes. At one point, she pointed to the men and women serving food and said, "You see how God is blessing me with more help?"
Several people walked up to the pastor of 40 years to thank her and hug her. She explained that her church was "a ministry of the heart" and she wasn't only hoping to fill empty stomachs, but to provide hope to those who were struggling to find some.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun