ROGERSVILLE — There was a lot of turkey roaming the streets of Hawkins County Thursday morning as a record number of Thanksgiving meals were served and delivered by a “blessed” group of volunteers.
That turkey wasn’t alone. It had some hot ham, potatoes, corn, green beans and pie to keep it company.
A total of 3,527 meals were served during the 14th annual People Loving People Thanksgiving dinner in Rogersville, eclipsing the previous record of nearly 3,300 that was set last year.
The food was cooked at Joseph Rogers Primary School all day Wednesday and early Thursday morning.
By sunrise, the parking lot had become a meal delivery assembly line and staging area where hot food was packed in to-go boxes and then loaded into vehicles that made deliveries across Hawkins County and into adjacent counties.
More than 500 meals were on the street before 8:30 a.m.
By the time it was over, 3,033 meals had been delivered, 336 had been served in the JRP cafeteria, and 158 had been picked up “to-go.”
A total of 432 volunteers helped make the event happen.
Feeding 3,527 by the numbers
Total food prepared included 800 pounds of ham, 1,200 pounds of turkey, 600 pounds of dressing, 400 pounds of green beans, 400 pounds of corn, 600 pounds of mashed potatoes, 300 pounds of cranberry sauce, 20 gallons of gravy, 3,500 rolls and more than 3,500 desserts.
Here are a few of the volunteers who helped make the event happen:
Head chef Russ Williamson
“We cooked more ham and turkey than we did last year. We had a church group (Sullivan Baptist Association) here Wednesday afternoon to cook, and they had about 25 people. The inmates came in three times, and then the fourth crew was in (Thursday morning) loading boxes for deliveries. Everything except the stuffing was done by 9 p.m. Seven people came in at midnight and did the stuffing, which took another six hours. It’s the people who make this happen. We couldn’t do this without these great volunteers. I don’t do any work. I just run around telling people what to do. It takes a lot of people to make this happen.”
This is his first year volunteering because it’s the first year he heard about the event.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to serve the poor and needy. I work with (longtime volunteer) Chris Manis, and I heard what he was doing, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Amber Fisher and daughters Abigail and Addison
“I left it up to the kids. This is our second year. We came out last year and they really enjoyed it. I told them we could go back again this year and they said, ‘Absolutely.’ We spend the morning here and later in the afternoon spend time with family.”
Why do it?
“Just helping people out. I know a lot of people who just can’t get out. They don’t have the money. They don’t have the gas. They can’t afford it. It helps them. There’s a lot of people in need.”
A PLP veteran, he was directing traffic for the drivers picking up meals to deliver. He volunteers for the event annually with encouragement from above.
“I think I was nudged by Jesus. He said. ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ That’s all I’m doing. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Event co-founder Dr. Blaine Jones
“It’s a blessing (to volunteer). The people who work and do this probably get blessed as much, if not more, than the people who get the meals. One thing we’ve noticed with the meals — some of the people we deliver to would rather have the person there and just have the fellowship on Thanksgiving Day, and the meal is secondary. That is a blessing, just to be able to share it with somebody. We have enough volunteers to have one person with each person who comes here to eat. They sit with them, make sure they don’t run out of desserts or drinks, watch football and the parades (on TV) and have a good time.”
Liz Woolridge, on her 14th year in a row
“We started out that first year in 2004. My son was just 4 years old and he started out sweeping floors. This year he’s 18 and he helps loading the cars, and him and my daughter are out doing deliveries. My daughter has graduated high school and college and she lives in Kentucky, but she comes home to do this. This will be 14 years in a row. There’s not too many of us (original volunteers) left.”
Why did you start?
“We had no family here and we couldn’t go home, so we wanted to do something that would make a difference. We know what it’s like to be alone on the holidays, and we didn’t want people to be alone.”
Why did you keep doing it 14 years?
“It became our tradition. This is what the kids wanted to do. It’s a good way to teach the kids to give back to those who help us along the way and become family. Now this is our Thanksgiving family.”
A veteran PLP volunteer, Tom sat out this year due to a back ailment, but he drove over from Clinch to eat and visit with friends.
“This isn’t just for people who are low-income. It’s for anybody — like if there’s one person or two people in the home, and they wouldn’t want to cook a big spread. They might have peanut butter sandwiches. That’d be like me. I’m by myself and I don’t cook a lot.”