Annual Goodwill Thanksgiving feast draws thousands

People lined up outside the Baltimore Convention Center on Wednesday well before the 58th annual Goodwill Thanksgiving Dinner began at noon. Within the first hour, dozens departed with bellies full and leftovers in tow, filing past hundreds more eager to be fed.

"This food is lovely, and I don't eat just anybody's cooking," announced Donald Graham of Baltimore, one of about 3,000 people who received tickets from nearby community and outreach centers for the meal, which was served by some 300 Goodwill volunteers.


The meal of turkey with dressing and gravy, rolls, mashed potatoes and cheesecake drew people of all ages, some alone and others with family and friends.

In addition to food, Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake conducted a resources fair, with 30 organizations offering information on services, including health screenings, housing and legal support.

Lisa Rusyniak, president and CEO for Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, said the convention center donated the space while local company Martin's Caterers arranged for food to be donated.

"It's really an outstanding event where everyone pulls together," Rusyniak said. "Our goal is really to get people connected to social services, but our mission is to get people on the road to self-sufficiency and independence.

"While people are here enjoying this great dinner, they can also access services. We can connect them to job training and ultimately help them get jobs," she said. "There's so much dignity and empowerment that comes with employment."

Graham dined with Shemirah Thomas of Bowie and their three children. He said the two received tickets for the event at Our Daily Bread Employment Center on Tuesday. Hard times, he said, have often created strains on their family life. But he added, "this meal has brought us closer together."

Brigitte Addato of Baltimore arrived alone but was soon dining with others.

"I'm appreciative," she said. "Some people don't have families. We don't have to sit alone today. It's good to have Goodwill come together like this. I'm blessed."


Eric Randall Sr. has attended the event for the past two years. "The food is good and it's plentiful. My doctor told me I need to lose some weight, so of course I put it off until the first of the year," he said, chuckling.

The event included a visit from the Ravens mascot Poe; even Santa Claus dropped in. Volunteers included Baltimore Orioles' Adam Jones, who declined to comment before taking a place at a serving station.

Also volunteering were 24 members of the Epworth United Methodist Church in Cockeysville, which has taken part in the event for the past 11 years.

"Any time we can be sharing love and serving our neighbor, that's what we want to do," said Epworth's pastor, the Rev. Bill Jones. "For us personally, it gives us a greater sense of what Thanksgiving really means."

Donald Blair of Dundalk said he's been volunteering for Goodwill's Thanksgiving dinners since 1974, when he was a member of Patterson High School's Key Club. He's been a server and an usher; this year he was in charge of auxiliary officers for the security detail.

"I like the idea of serving people," Blair said. "Even back then, there were people that were homeless or just hungry with low income, and they couldn't afford a good Thanksgiving dinner, and I thought it was really a nice thing to do. And you meet so many different people too."


Blair said a foot ailment caused him to be placed on disability. Walking with a cane, he said his doctor told him he should stay off his feet — and maybe skip the Goodwill event.

"I told him, 'This will be my 40th year,'" Blair said. "'I'm not missing my 40th Goodwill Thanksgiving dinner.'"

Blair recalled years past when demand exceeded supply, and officials had to turn folks away. Not so these days; participants were allowed to take food with them.

Rusyniak, who has been with Goodwill for nearly 17 years, has seen changes in those being fed in recent years. "It seems like there are always more children each year, which is really sad," she said. "But our goal is to help people help themselves."

Baltimore Sun reporter Sarah Hainesworth contributed to this article.