A heap­ing help­ing of kind­ness

Com­mu­nity meals spread joy on Thanks­giv­ing

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­non@ches­pub.com

As peo­ple all across the coun­try sat down for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner last Thurs­day, at least two vol­un­teer groups in Ne­wark spent the day mak­ing sure that every­one in the com­mu­nity had a place to spend the hol­i­day.

“We can all do our own fam­ily thing and not even no­tice that some peo­ple don’t have a place to go,” said Lisa Har­mon, who co­or­di­nated a free Thanks­giv­ing meal at Ogle­town Bap­tist Church.

More than 100 vol­un­teers helped make the event pos­si­ble, some ar­riv­ing as early as 3 a.m. to be­gin roast­ing 50 tur­keys and cook stuff­ing, mashed pota­toes, sweet pota­toes, corn, green beans and other food.

“It’s a well-oiled ma­chine be­cause we’ve been do­ing it so long,” said Rob Kemp­ner, who helped over­see the kitchen op­er­a­tions.

The tra­di­tion be­gan 30 years ago, when Paula Cobb and her fam­ily

mem­bers found them­selves cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day at a Chi­nese food buf­fet. The per­son who nor­mally hosted their Thanks­giv­ing din­ner had died, and they didn’t have an al­ter­na­tive plan.

“We thought there must be a bet­ter way to spend Thanks­giv­ing,” Cobb said.

The next year, she and other church mem­bers or­ga­nized a Thanks­giv­ing meal at the church. The event, which at­tracted just a cou­ple dozen peo­ple the first year, has grown into a mas­sive un­der­tak­ing that feeds more than 1,500 peo­ple each year.

The church ran buses to pick up peo­ple from Hope Din­ing Hall, the Univer­sity of Delaware and other locations. Vol­un­teers also de­liv­ered meals to more than 300 peo­ple in the area who couldn’t get to the church.

“If peo­ple call and need a meal, we’ll find a way to get it to them,” Good­win Cobb IV, Paula’s son, said. “This might be some­one’s only meal to­day.”

The church also col­lected do­nated clothes and made them avail­able to any vis­i­tor who needed them.

Dana McNair, who de­scribed him­self as “down on his luck,” en­joyed the meal with a few friends.

“Look, ev­ery­body’s happy,” McNair said, not­ing that he comes to the event ev­ery year. “I look for­ward to it. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Ear­lier in the day, the Ne­wark Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment hosted its an­nual Thanks­giv­ing break­fast, now in its 31st year.

Nearly 150 peo­ple at­tended the break­fast, which was held at the Ne­wark Se­nior Cen­ter. The event be­gan as a way to serve UD stu­dents who couldn’t make it home for the hol­i­days. While it still draws some stu­dents, par­tic­u­larly from the bur­geon­ing pop­u­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents, it has mor­phed into a com­mu­nity event that draws many of the same fam­i­lies year af­ter year.

For $3, at­ten­dees were treated to eggs, pan­cakes, sausage, dough­nuts, cof­fee and or­ange juice.

Chrissy Hol­u­binka, a recre­ation spe­cial­ist with the Ne­wark Parks and Recre­ation Depart­ment, said 53 vol­un­teers helped cook and serve the meals.

“It’s re­ally pos­si­ble be­cause of them,” Hol­u­binka said. “It re­ally warms my heart ev­ery year.”

Many of the vol­un­teers come back year af­ter year, while oth­ers, like Jean Kutcher, were first-timers.

“I love this,” Kutcher said as she passed out plates topped with food. “It’s a great com­mu­nity gath­er­ing.”

Even some of the youngest Ne­wark­ers got into the act.

Joey Baranyai, 12, was serv­ing meals with friend Lo­gan Wolver­ton, 10.

“I like go­ing around help­ing peo­ple out and bring­ing them stuff,” he said.

Mean­while, 6-year-old Rachel Magee spent the morn­ing wheel­ing around a cart full of dough­nuts, stop­ping at each ta­ble to of­fer treats to the guests. Her brother, 8-year-old Ja­son, stood off to the side draw­ing Thanks­giv­ing cards to hand out at the event. Both are vet­er­ans of the event, in at least their third year of vol­un­teer­ing.

Bo­livia na­tive Yara Mon­tene­gro at­tended the break­fast with her hus­band, Edgar Salazar, a Colom­bia na­tive who is study­ing for a Ph.D. in elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Delaware. They sat with Ra­nia Triki from Tu­nisia and Rob Detwiler, a Ne­wark res­i­dent.

This is the cou­ple’s sec­ond year in the United States and their sec­ond time ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Thanks­giv­ing.

“We re­ally like it,” Mon­tene­gro said. “It’s a spe­cial day to think about all that you’re grate­ful for. We like that Amer­i­cans do this ev­ery year. We don’t have some­thing like this in our coun­tries.”

Mary Roland, who came to the break­fast with friend Leta Ruth, said she has been at­tend­ing for years, first as a vol­un­teer and then as a guest.

“It’s fun to see peo­ple come in and come to­gether as a com­mu­nity,” Roland said. “When I come, I get to see a lot of peo­ple I don’t see through­out the year.”

Ruth, a first-time at­tendee, was quickly im­pressed.

“It’s quite nice,” she said. “All the vol­un­teers are won­der­ful. I think I might be back.”

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Re­becca Nalda, 7, helps serve Thanks­giv­ing meals at Ogle­town Bap­tist Church.

NE­WARK POST PHO­TOS BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Vol­un­teers dish up Thanks­giv­ing meals at Ogle­town Bap­tist Church.

Leta Ruth and Mary Roland at­tend the city of Ne­wark’s Thanks­giv­ing break­fast.

Rachel Magee, 6, hands out dough­nuts at the city of Ne­wark’s Thanks­giv­ing break­fast.

Lo­gan Wolver­ton, 10, and Joey Baranyai, 12, vol­un­teer at the city of Ne­wark’s Thanks­giv­ing break­fast.

Dana McNair (cen­ter, back) at­tends Ogle­town Bap­tist Church’s Thanks­giv­ing meal ev­ery year with friends. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” he said.

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