Wilde Lake’s Slayton House turned into a gathering spot on Tuesday night, as families joined together for a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Oneness Center for Spiritual Living.
With kids racing around the room, parents laughing and music playing, the dinner felt like the true sense of a family Thanksgiving. Strangers became friends as they munched on turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
The annual dinner has been held for 12 years, but this was the first year that the church, formerly known as the Columbia Center for Spiritual Living, partnered with other agencies in the area to expand the event, according to the church’s outreach director, Judy Templeton, who has spearheaded the dinner since its inception. This year the church partnered with HopeWorks of Howard County, the county’s MultiService Center, Hearts and Homes and Getting Ahead to expand the dinner to those who may not otherwise get to have a Thanksgiving dinner, Templeton said.
“The underserved population doesn’t have the fringe benefits of life, like somebody to make dinner for them,” she said.
Templeton has lived in Columbia since 1973, and said the dinner is a testament to the work of the planned community ’s founder, Jim Rouse, and his vision of bringing people together, a value she wants to keep alive.
“If Rouse was here and standing in the middle of the room he’d say ‘My work has been worth it,’” she said. “For a couple of minutes you can believe in world peace seeing everyone together.”
The community feeling was palpable on Tuesday, with residents from all over the county sitting together. Sandra Price, who learned of the dinner through her work with Getting Ahead, said she came to the dinner for a chance to see friends.
“It’s great to do this and bring the community together,” she said. “Everybody’s been very friendly and accommodating. I can tell their hearts are in it.”
The dinner was put together through a team effort, Templeton said, as the church purchases the food at a discount from David’s Natural Market and the space is donated by Slayton House. At the end of the night, leftover food is sent home with the families and any still remaining food is sent to Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, according to the church’s cleric, the Rev. Brian Akers.
Akers, who has been with the church for three years, said the dinner is a chance for church members to go into the community and put the sentiments of their values into action. The focus of the dinner is on those in the community who are already served by other agencies, Akers said, to help those in the community who most need it.
“It just made sense to do something locally, to dispel the ‘not in my backyard’ idea,” Akers said. “We bring people together with the ability to serve, lend a hand to those who need it and treat them as family.”
For Jurnee Del Rosario and her family, Tuesday’s dinner was a chance to enjoy a meal and reflect on what they’re thankful for this year. When asked what she was grateful for, Rosario’s answer was simple: “life.”
A sexual assault and domestic violence survivor, Del Rosario said she wanted to share her blessings and story with others.
“I’m thankful to have a second chance at life,” she said.
Del Rosario ‘s daughter Jayden, 8, had a similarly poignant answer for what she was most grateful for this year as she sat next to her mother and her 4-year-old sister, Noelle.
“Having a safe life and being with my family.”