"Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful. I am very grateful for just being alive and having my family and there are others who may not be as fortunate," Miller-Johnson said, explaining she has never done anything like this dinner before.

"It's better to give than to receive," she said. "I think it's great."

Petrosino agreed with that, saying that heaven itself might be "like a great banquet."


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"When you think of the idea of giving praise and thanks to God, the greatest thing is to take the very simple thing Jesus said: 'Love your neighbor as yourself,'" he said.

Karen Sparzak, of Bel Air, was helping her 11-year-old daughter Gabby, a St. Margaret student, pass out paper leaves where visitors could write what they were thankful for, to be displayed in the room afterward.

Gabby Sparzak said the dinner was a nice thing to do.

"I think it's kind," she said, adding there were a lot of helpers and volunteers.

Karen Sparzak said her family usually takes part in an Adopt-a-Family program for Thanksgiving but decided to come out to the dinner this time.

"For kids, it's much better than collecting food," she said. "It makes it more concrete. They can really see and feel it, and they can really appreciate what they have."

In Aberdeen, the Rogers Street firehouse was stocked with plenty of food and volunteers for the annual community dinner sponsored by the Evangelistic Church of Deliverance led by Pastor Patricia Pringle. Volunteers were busy in the kitchen, in the serving line and at the dessert table. The volunteers also offered clean, used clothing and other items for those coming to dinner.

Over in Havre de Grace, the SMILES dinner attracted perhaps its biggest group of volunteers to date, with at least a couple hundred people in St. Patrick Hall by 10:30 a.m. to be given assignments, help deliver food or serve it in the hall.

"I think we have more volunteers than we have ever had," Elaine Bennett, an organizer, said.

The dinner, which has been happening for nearly a quarter of a century, would prepare food for about 500 people.

"It's pretty much the same thing every year and it always seems to run very smoothly," Bennett said. "I don't think any other [Thanksgiving dinner-organizing groups] actually serve in-house and deliver."

She noted the dinner is a draw not only for the so-called needy, but also simply for people who want a place to celebrate Thanksgiving with others.

"A lot of people think it's for the homeless and stuff like that, but it's really not. It's for anybody," Bennett said. "It's for people that just want some place to eat. It really is a diverse group of people that come in."

The dinner again drew new volunteers who had never been to SMILES and were eager to help.

One of them was Savanna Seymour, 17, of Rising Sun, who came with her grandfather, Bob Corvino, of Rising Sun.

"I just felt the need to help the less fortunate," Savanna said. "I just was looking for something."

She said she has volunteered before, but never on Thanksgiving.

"I just think it's a good thing to help the less fortunate, to give back," she said.