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A healthy spirit of volunteerism at annual Havre de Grace community Thanksgiving

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Havre de Grace community Thanksgiving organizers report being overwhelmed with volunteers

Havre de Grace had a new location, but the same community spirit, for its annual Thanksgiving dinner.

It was moved from St. Patrick Hall, its site for the past several years, to the Havre de Grace Community Center this year, but the move didn't deter several hundred volunteers serving and delivering meals, or those wanting a Thanksgiving meal or some company for the holiday from coming out Thursday.

"We'll do 1,000 meals easily, if not more," Don Osman, the longtime face of the charitable event, said.

The event is put on by the nonprofit Community Projects of Havre de Grace Inc. Osman, the head of the organization's Thanksgiving Dinner Committee, said about 300 volunteers were participating by preparing and serving meals at the community center, or by taking meals to people throughout Harford and Cecil counties who could not leave their homes..

St. Patrick Hall is adjacent to Havre de Grace High School, the original location of the holiday feast, and a shuttle bus was available to pick up people, who would have walked to the dinner when it was downtown, and bring them to the community center near Meadowvale Elementary School.

"We have a shuttle bus coming up and down the hill," Osman said.

The change in venue did not stop Perryville resident Tom Iszard, who said he has been attending the dinner for the past eight or nine years.

The 86-year-old Air Force veteran said he drove to the community center with no problems. He said he comes to the dinner because "I live alone in a senior apartment."

"I come as much for the socialization as the good food," he said.

Iszard chatted with fellow diners and volunteers about local politics and sports, especially the Havre de Grace High School and Perryville High School football teams – the Warriors are scheduled to play in a state semifinal game in Baltimore Saturday.

"I don't like to eat alone, because food doesn't taste right," Iszard said.

The dinner was moved to the community center this year because the Archdiocese of Baltimore requires background checks for adult volunteers working at events on church properties, and organizers of the dinner determined they could not do that for several hundred volunteers.

Osman noted the community center provided more room for the dinner, and organizers were able to separate the dining and serving areas, rather than having them mixed together at the church hall.

"This has been great," he said.

Osman said organizers were "overwhelmed" with volunteers Thursday. The volunteers were of all ages, and included parents and their children.

Kira Sconion, of Abingdon, her sister, Keisha Nandalal, of Belcamp, and their sister-in-law, Elissa Doell, of Abingdon, waited outside the community center before the dinner started. They were waiting for 46 meals to be finished so they could deliver them in the Aberdeen area.

Osman thanked Nandalal, who was spending her second year working at the dinner, for volunteering.

"It's our pleasure," she told him. "Every year, it's such a treat."

It was also Sconion's second year volunteering, but the first for Doell.

"It's just part of what we do as a family," Nandalal said. "We believe in starting each holiday by giving back to the community."

"We're all so blessed, that the most important part is then to be able to be a blessing to other people," she continued.

Nandalal and her husband and two sons, 15-year-old Marco and 9-year-old Mario, also volunteered at the dinner.

Mario came outside to join the adults as they waited.

"I liked giving the food to people," he said of his experience delivering meals around Havre de Grace last year. "They got so happy."

Chris Boyd, of Darlington, volunteered with his sons, Ayden, 11, and Christopher, 14. They were part of a group of about 20 to 30 coaches, parents and athletes from the Havre de Grace High School and Havre de Grace recreation league wrestling teams.

This year is the first time the Boyds have volunteered at the community dinner.

"The coaches asked us, and we didn't have any plans later, and we thought it was a great event, so we volunteered some time," Boyd said.

He said the family helped prepare meals and deliver a few in the community. Boyd said his sons gained "I think, a sense of giving back."

"It's not necessarily about your family," he added. "It's about the whole community."

Ayden, a sixth-grader at Havre de Grace Middle School, said he and his classmates helped raise money for the dinner, and about $500 was collected school-wide.

He said what he enjoyed most about volunteering at the dinner was "just helping."

Christopher Boyd, a ninth-grader at the high school, said "it's been fun."

He had been talking HHS football with Iszard.

"I like how you can just help people," he said.

Donald Bowlen, who lives in Perryville and graduated from HHS in 1977, has been volunteering at the dinner for 25 years.

"They had people here at 7 o'clock this morning, getting ready to volunteer and pick up dinners," Bowlen said.

Osman is a retired Harford County Public Schools teacher, who spent about 40 years at the high school and founded the student community service group SMILES in the 1980s. That group put the dinner on until it folded during the 2012-13 school year, and then the Community Projects of Havre de Grace took over in 2013.

Bowlen said Osman was his wrestling coach, English teacher, "mentor, best friend" when he was in high school.

Bowlen is a member of the Community Projects Thanksgiving dinner committee.

"I just love to do it," he said of volunteering. "I look forward to Thanksgiving Day. It's something that's in my blood."

He said many people he brings meals to are senior citizens living alone.

"It puts a smile on their face, and it puts a smile on mine, because at least I can give them that meal because I know it's probably the only meal that they're going to have for that day," he said.

He often stays and talks with residents and asks if he can do anything to help around their homes.

"You don't just go in and give them the meal and leave," Bowlen said. "You ask them how they're doing, if I can do anything while I'm here."

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