At Thanksgiving, volunteers to carry on for the late Rich Holly in Havre de Grace

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Volunteers Fred Wills and Lou Ann Swam are taking on the role left “void” after the death this year of Richard Holly, a key organizer of the annual Havre de Grace Community Thanksgiving dinner.

Holly, who retired after four decades as a Havre de Grace High school teacher, was the treasurer for Community Projects of Havre de Grace. Holly died Feb. 28 at age 70.

Community Projects is the nonprofit umbrella organization that supports the Thanksgiving dinner which annually feeds hundreds of people.

“It’s just been a tremendous asset for the dinner and our organization that those two stepped forward,” Don Osman, chair of Community Projects’ Thanksgiving dinner committee, said Monday.

Osman, who is also a retired Havre de Grace High teacher and former member of the Harford County Board of Education, is the longtime coordinator of the dinner.

As organizer, Holly had worked with donors to ensure food and supplies were available for an event through which hundreds of people in Havre de Grace and the surrounding areas receive a free meal on Thanksgiving Day.

Swam and Wills are taking on those duties according to Osman. Wills had assisted Holly, with tasks such as picking up donated food and drinks from area businesses.

About 1,300 meals were served last year, either at the Havre de Grace Community Center, or delivered by volunteers to residences in Cecil and Harford counties. About 300 volunteers participated, according to Osman.

“They were big shoes to fill, trust me,” Osman said, referring to Holly’s role in the annual event. “We couldn’t have the dinner without [Swam and Wills]— I needed somebody to pick up that end of the organization, and they did.”

Wills said he and Swam have been working with donors, such as supermarkets, beverage bottling companies and restaurants to either donate food and supplies, or provide them at a reduced price.

Wills said he had been a “sidekick” to Holly the past four years, helping him transport donated items such as turkeys and sodas in Wills’ pickup truck.

“I really respected what he had done,” Wills said.

Wills started as a volunteer with his son delivering meals to people who could not leave their homes.

“You’re bringing them a couple of warm meals and it’s just really nice,” Wills said.

He praised Swam for being “very organized” and helping to coordinate with the donors.

“I knew Don Osman could use the help, and it just seemed like a natural fit to step in and help out,” Wills said.

Wills is also coordinating the team of eight to 10 Havre de Grace restaurant chefs who spend the days leading up to the dinner cooking turkey and preparing gravy.

“We’ll be cooking Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” he said.

The turkey and gravy are prepared at American Legion Post 47 in Havre de Grace, which Wills said has a rotisserie cooker. The trimmings, including corn, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce are cooked at the Community Center Thursday morning, according to Wills. Volunteers either serve the full meals, or they package them for delivery.

“I wanted to see the effort continue, for sure,” Wills said.

This year’s dinner will be the 29th annual community dinner and the fifth under the Community Projects umbrella. It had been organized through the Havre de Grace High School student community service group SMILES until the group folded after the 2012-13 school year. Osman founded SMILES in 1984.

“This is what Havre de Grace is all about,” Osman said. “I couldn’t be happier with the response that we’ve had and the fact that we keep growing every year.”

Osman said this year’s event will be conducted in Holly’s memory. There will be a moment of silence when Osman addresses the volunteers on Thanksgiving Day.

“It will be tough to get through emotionally, but we’ll do it,” Osman said.

The dinner will be served at the Havre de Grace Community Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 23. Deliveries will start between 10:30 and 11 a.m., according to Osman.

Anyone who wants to volunteer may just show up at the community center the day of the event. For questions, call Osman at either 410-939-5412 or 443-243-7493.

Amanda Phillips, of Port Deposit, plans to be among the volunteers. She is the Harford/Cecil County lead for the Baltimore-based volunteer organization CityFam.

Phillips, who works at the Hair Cuttery in Aberdeen, has secured commitments from at least 30 volunteers. She hopes to get about 100 people out on Thanksgiving.

Volunteers with CityFam perform one community service project each month, and they take part in monthly social events. The proceeds from admission to the social event support their service project, Phillips said.

Local CityFam groups have worked previously with Relay for Life in Havre de Grace and Harford Family House Inc. in Aberdeen.

“We’re just hoping to get people involved and have fun and do more and more projects,” Phillips said.

She said it can be challenging to find a holiday event to volunteer with, since the volunteer rolls fill fast. She said Osman told her, “the more the merrier” when she contacted him, though.

Phillips said she and her fellow CityFam volunteers want to encourage more people to participate and help out at events beyond the holidays.

“We plan on partnering with many other organizations from this point forward,” she said.

Visit the Serve at Community Projects' Thanksgiving Dinner With CityFam! event page on Facebook for more information.

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