A heaping helping of kindness
Community meals spread joy on Thanksgiving
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.”
Rebecca Nalda, 7, helps serve Thanksgiving meals at Ogletown Baptist Church.
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.