By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
“It’s a message that Jesus made crystal clear; when we love those in need, we love HIM .”
Max Lucado’s quote on the wall of the First Presbyterian Church is the inspiration for Melissa Wilkinson’s devotion to feeding the hungry. The Community Thanksgiving Dinner is moving to the Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall this year and she will serve as kitchen supervisor.
“It’s an opportunity to use our wonderful facility to honor God,” Wilkinson said. “We are blessed to sit in fellowship with the hungry and homeless.”
She said the Thanksgiving Community Dinner serves anyone in the community with many families making the dinner a time to serve and enjoy a meal with other residents just like the Pilgrims and Native Americans did so many years ago.
“We will also serve many elderly who may or may not have family or anywhere to go dine and eat,” she said.
This is a labor of love for her family with husband, Tony, and children Karsten, a sophomore at Stillwater High School, and Kaleigh, a sixth-grade student at Sunnybrook Christian School, all planning to serve and clean tables.
Many single people like Joe Hodges enjoy coming to have Thanksgiving dinner with others in the community. Hodges, a local restaurant owner, lends his expertise and equipment from his restaurant supply business to the dinner. He learned about serving large masses as an Army mess hall cook.
“Lot’s of people bring their families,” Hodges said. “I enjoy it because I get to give back to a community that’s helped me for many years. I’m glad to be in the kitchen and doing something I understand.”
Rusty Rex said his kids grew up preparing for the dinner in a group of potato peelers. He explained it was good for the children to see people working together to do something for someone else.
There’s much preparation to pull off a dinner guest list of more than 800. All the pies are baked by the Church of Christ members, said Richard Birdwell. More than 200 pies are baked and delivered, a tradition the church has cooked up for 27 years.
“Some are fresh baked that morning — hot and ready to serve,” Birdwell said indicating it’s a way for many elderly and youth group members with other activities planned the actual day of Thanksgiving to contribute to the community dinner.
All contributions are appreciated, said Pat Dorr, the dinner coordinator who is affectionately known as the “Head Turkey.”
“The day is really not about the food — it’s about the friendship,” Dorr said.
So many in the community come back to dine year after year, he considers them his extended family. Celebrating its 28th year, the meal features turkey, ham, gravy and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, fruit and gelatin salads, desserts of pies, cakes and cookies with coffee and punch served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“We need donations of money, food contributions and volunteers,” he said.
Volunteers can sign up to work hour-and-a-half time slots. Dorr believes the biggest responsibility of every volunteer is to visit and enjoy the caring atmosphere. This year’s dinner is dedicated to one of the long-time volunteers, Charles Codding, who served as the event’s photographer.
“Charles was a retired rancher who moved to Stillwater,” Dorr said. “He was a dedicated volunteer for many years who helped take pictures.”
“Families with small children who would like to help decorate and color, should definitely come between 9 and 10:30 that morning if they want the little kids to have a way to take part, “ Dorr said.
Over the years, Dorr said many OSU students who can’t make it home and international students learning about American traditions often enjoy spending Thanksgiving day at the community meal.
“Isn’t this what the Pilgrims intended? Remember the dinner is for ALL people in Stillwater who want to share the warmth of this special day and show our thankfulness for the blessing that we are given,” he said.
There is no sponsoring organization for the dinner with just a group of citizens from all over the community coming together for a joyous celebration.
Call Pat Dorr at 405-624-8689 if you want to work a volunteer shift from decorating, cooking and serving to cleanup. He needs to plan for food so indicate if you can supply pre-cooked boneless hams, fruit, cranberry or jello salads, cakes or cookies. All food can be dropped off at the First Presbyterian Fellowship Hall between 6-8 p.m. Wednesday night, Nov. 21 or between 7-10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. Donations are needed to purchase several items. Mail monetary gifts to: Community Dinner c/o Pat Dorr, 101 Georgia, Stillwater, OK, 74075.
If you need a ride to the meal or if you need a meal delivered due to physical disabiity, call 405-372-5580 after 9 on Thanksgiving morning. There is a limit of two meals delivery to one location between 11 a.m. and noon. Manpower is limited so everyone is encouraged to come join the fun at the dinner.