Workers from the Western Wayne Schools food service hand over trays filled with Thanksgiving dinner. Photo by Bob Hansen

In under a month, idea grows into dinner for more than 500

An idea grew into a feast for 515 people in less than four weeks when Western Wayne gathered for its inaugural Community Thanksgiving Dinner on Nov. 14.

Doors opened shortly before 6 p.m. People poured into the Lincoln Middle/High School cafeteria. For more than two hours, they kept coming, joining a line along the room’s walls as they moved toward the serving line. Friends chatted amiably with friends and then sat down for a meal.

It’s probably the first time in more than two years that that many western Wayne people have gathered together, due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the organizers reflected afterwards.

Joyce Hinsky, 82, said, “I’ve lived here all my life,” as she ate with her 81-year-old friend Carolyn Prosser. “When I read that you’re giving me a free meal, I thought, ‘Well, I’m going,’ and I called Carolyn and invited her to go with me.”

Both women agreed that having student helpers made the evening more special to them. They couldn’t stand in the long line. When they came in, girls from Lincoln’s basketball team showed them to seats and brought trays of supper to them.

“The girls have been very nice, so nice, very, very polite,” Hinsky said.

Three sophomore team members, poured drinks for guests. Aubrey Trent said the whole team came “just to help the community.” Addyson Pitcock said she thought it great to be part of something that “brought the whole community together.”

Luke Cottrell, a sophomore who is the son of LMHS cafeteria manager Sarah Cottrell, kept the impressive selection of pies from running low. He said, “I think this meal is great for our community because it is free and some people might not be able to eat with their families.”

Western Wayne school superintendent Andy Stover operated the microphone during supper, reminding parents to pick up free mittens and warm hats donated by Reid Health for their children, and thanking the event’s many other contributors.

It all happened because a dozen people decided it should.

The meal started coming together when Duke Energy gave $1,000 to help fight food insecurity. Thinking about how to use the money, Stover recalled a Thanksgiving dinner in another community. On Oct. 17, he convened 12 people from his administrative staff and the community. They decided it should be done and started working against time to make it happen.

Food service director Betty Huddleston “was very adamant that her staff could do it and that she could order through her regular suppliers,” Stover said. That would require more money. By the time the doors opened, community businesses and individuals had donated another $6,000.

Huddleston said 10 of the cafeteria staff helped at the dinner. They cooked the main course – turkey or ham – during the week before. To each serving tray, they piled on mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, a dinner roll and pie.

Dublin Volunteer Fire Department spent most of two hours delivering meals to people who couldn’t make it to the cafeteria. A banner displayed at the dinner listed 25 donors. The school choir came and sang.

Perhaps the shirts worn by volunteers summed it up best. Stover said the organizing committee decided on the slogan printed on each shirt: “Our community is our school and our school is our community.”

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Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.