Thanksgiving Day

Rita Dekowski prepares some pumpkin pie for guests at the Thanksgiving Day dinner at St. Margaret Church in Bel Air Thursday. (MATT BUTTON, Aegis staff / November 22, 2012)

Everyone who went into St. Margaret School in Bel Air Thursday was greeted by a host of volunteers and the sight of a festive meal.

About 70 volunteers, mostly from St. Margaret Church and nearby New Hope Baptist Church, spent the morning organizing neat table settings and centerpieces, as well as plenty of food, for the first such Thanksgiving community dinner held at St. Margaret.

It was one of three such dinners in Harford County, with the best-known perhaps being the SMILES dinner up the road in Havre de Grace.

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The St. Margaret organizers had planned food for about 400 people. Only about 30 people had shown up around noon, although several busloads were expected and visitors were still coming in. The dinner ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For people like Edith Phaneuf, of Street, it was a chance for conversation and community.

Phaneuf said she had gone to the Open Door Café's holiday meal for four or five years, but it wasn't offered this time. She said it has been harder for her to fix dinner herself "now that I've gotten incapacitated."

"We just enjoy coming here and getting out and meeting people," Phaneuf said, adding she gives a donation for the Thanksgiving meal.

Marie Dekowski, one of the organizers of the St. Margaret dinner, said it has been in the works for about 15 years and was spearheaded by parishioner Tara Oswald.

"There's a lot of people that are just alone and by themselves, and a lot of volunteers are in that situation," Dekowski said about those coming to dinner.

Young adults or teenagers and families with children are the two major groups looking for a way to help others on Thanksgiving, Dekowski said.

"They want to help and they want to be a part of something big," she said. "I really feel we have done a really good job of trying to get everyone to do something."

Besides an opportunity for "fellowship and friends," as she put it, St. Margaret also had a coat closet that featured about 35 hats and scarves knitted by a woman from Georgia.

A table was filled with paper bags brightly decorated by St. Margaret School students and filled with necessities like tissues, as well as cookies or candy, available to visitors.

Students had also designed the pictures on the colorful place mats that had been photocopied for every table setting.

A children's table was set up in the back of the room, and Dekowski pointed out that people from at least a few other groups or churches were involved in the effort.

A family from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sang songs on stage, and some people from Trinity Lutheran Church were also among the volunteers.

"Many businesses donated food, drinks and monetary donations," Dekowski said. "It's becoming a big network."

Sharon Miller-Johnson, of Edgewood, was a New Hope member talking with Deacon Vic Petrosino, of Bel Air, who was with St. Margaret.

Both said the event gave them a chance to meet others in the community and help people.