Thursday brought a Denton tradition 35 years in the making back indoors at Calhoun Middle School.
A smaller-than-average army of volunteers were on track to serve 2,000 meals by the time doors opened in the middle school cafeteria for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
The Village Church Denton hosted the Thanksgiving Community Banquet as usual, and a mix of church members and volunteers made the event happen with a week’s worth of preparation beforehand.
Jesus and Zoraida Valdez said they’ve been coming every Thanksgiving for the past eight years or so.
They said they were happy to be back inside around others after the abridged version necessary last year. Thanksgiving 2020, with an accessible coronavirus vaccine still months away, forced volunteers and diners outdoors for a drive-thru event.
Despite the asterisk on the record, it kept the tradition of volunteerism and community going amid a pandemic.
Thursday was closer to a typical year, but it wasn’t without its share of obstacles.
Stephanie Mabe, event organizer and Village Church member, said it takes roughly 90 20-pound turkeys by the prior Friday to make the Thanksgiving meal happen each year, but that wasn’t quite so simple this year.
“Usually we are able to call Costco and say, ‘Can I have 90 turkeys on Friday, the Friday before Thanksgiving?’ and they say, ‘No problem,’” Mabe said. “This time they said, ‘You may have two.’”
She said they put out the call to church members to buy up as many fresh 20-pound turkeys as possible. The call worked, and she said they had more than 100 birds by the time doors opened Thursday.
“It was a really neat thing seeing church members hauling turkeys in to the middle school, and it was remarkable because it was looking bleak for a little bit,” Mabe said.
Final numbers weren’t clear Thursday morning, but Anne Holibaugh, a church staffer, estimated 100-200 volunteers were on site for the big day. That doesn’t include the possibly hundreds more who made the event come together over the preceding week.
Jerry and Patti Baird were just two of the local helpers who showed up to lend a hand Thursday.
The Double Oak couple celebrated their 50th anniversary just over a month ago, and they were looking for a way to give back before heading to see family for a belated Thanksgiving holiday.
“We’ve been very blessed, and we like to serve,” Jerry Baird said.
Patti Baird said they’d recently helped to package meals with their church that would be sent to Cuba this holiday season.
“I think that, for both of us — you do serve in your local church, that’s your intimate church family, but God’s church is very, very big,” she said. “I mean, Jesus went all over, he didn’t just stay.”
That stream of compassion and a desire to serve was common across church staffers and unaffiliated volunteers alike.
Holibaugh, who has helped with the Thanksgiving event over the past six years, said the most important thing she considers each year is the communal meal’s ability to bring people together and provide dignity.
“When I think about this meal, that’s something that rises to the top,” Holibaugh said. “Just the opportunity to affirm the dignity of what it means to be a human being regardless of where you’re living, what resources you have, who you’re connected to.”