Columbus’ Steven Ayers donated a turkey and vegetables to Eastside Community Center’s early community Thanksgiving meal last year. This time around, he was among an estimated 600 people expected to stop and enjoy a holiday feast during the free event Saturday.
Ayers, like everyone else, was invited to take home a pie to boot.
“Better than what you can get at a restaurant,” he proclaimed.
Eastside’s Lenore Hallowell, one of the cooks and among the 50 helpers who staged the 34th annual event, beamed when she heard the proclamation.
Hallowell and the center’s executive director, Priscilla Scalf, also were pleased with the center’s just-completed $50,000 facelift. It features a pumpkin-orange interior paint job that fit a Thanksgiving theme, along with new flooring, a flatscreen TV, and new kitchen cabinets to come.
A Cummins Inc. grant funded the work that drew the attention of a number of the diners, almost as much as the turkeys donated by Columbus Sunrise Rotary.
“Isn’t it all lovely?” Hallowell asked.
Actually, diners noticed staff and volunteers’ hospitality as much as anything at an event that last year dwindled to roughly 200 in-house diners while delivered meals skyrocketed to 1,000.
Scalf and the center’s leaders decided to stop delivering meals this year, hoping that instead they would take time to enjoy visiting with each other while dining. They did precisely that.
“I wanted to get out of the house and be with people,” said Nancy Routier of Columbus. “And everybody here has just been so nice. And I have to say I love this food.”
Seated nearby, Columbus’ Nellie Cowan said she liked the down-home atmosphere at the center.
“It seems like the volunteers have more time to talk to you (with diners arriving in shifts),” Cowan said. “It’s just too bad my kids couldn’t come with me.”
Columbus East High School student Brandon Harper helped organize the get-together for his senior project. His behind-the-scenes efforts included collecting $900 in donations and plenty of food.
But, early in the day, he seemed happier about the boost in in-house attendance.
“That,” he said, “is a max increase.”
Close by Eastside, volunteers at Lighthouse Full Gospel Tabernacle said they expected to feed about 35 people a Thanksgiving meal in the basement of the church on Indiana Avenue. And they expected to deliver as many as 80 meals to families — a first for the church.
Volunteer Wanda Jaggers said she hopes the delivery outreach continues next year.
“We just wanted to take time,” Jaggers said, “to show the love and compassion we have for people.”