For about 100 volunteers Thursday at Carolina Coliseum, it was the Thanksgiving dinner version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”
They stood in the serving line patiently. Their taste buds were doing back flips as the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and green beans were piled on to their styrofoam plates. Then, they handed off the plates to the box packers and headed to the back of the line again. And again. And again.
In the less-publicized aspect of the annual Thanksgiving feast put on by St. Peter’s Catholic Church and First Baptist Church, the volunteers were filling turkey dinner requests from dozens of elderly care facilities in the Midlands. While hundreds of people lined up for their own meals on the Blossom Street side of the coliseum, the volunteers filled plates, stacked up desserts and packed about 1,000 take-out meals.
And despite having to resist the temptation to steal a taste of turkey, they were having a blast.
“It just thrills me to death to be able to help somebody on Thanksgiving,” said Minnie Smith, who was in line with her daughter Wanda Thompson. Her son-in-law and grandson were at the other end of the line packing boxes.
Smith’s husband died two years ago around Thanksgiving, making this a difficult time of year for the family. This year, they decided rather than sit around and be sad on Thanksgiving, they would volunteer at the community dinner. Based on their smiles and laughter while waiting for their eight trip through the serving line, it worked to brighten the day.
The family always has had their Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the day, said Thompson, who was heading home after volunteering to cook a turkey. “We’ll have our Thanksgiving dinner tonight,” she said.
Jim Stewart had a similar approach. He volunteered his truck to transport two loads of prepared meals, 77 plates to Jenni-Lynn Assisted Living in West Columbia and 26 plates to Oxford House in Columbia.
“I just felt the need to do it,” said Stewart, who has been helping with the event for years. “It’s God’s will for us to help the helpless.”
Stewart’s wife volunteered this year. They used to go to a family Thanksgiving gathering in Greenwood. He misses that, but “I’ll see them at Christmas.”
The turkey cooks start before sunrise at the two churches. Other volunteers begin arriving around 9 a.m. at the coliseum. One group scooped cranberry jelly into little cups, while another doled out the desserts to tables set up for each take-out order.
The filling of plates was planned out to the minute. (Start preparing Lemonaide House’s 30 meals at 10:45 a.m., finish at 10:48 a.m.) But everything was put slightly behind schedule because the opening prayer had been delayed.
Still, the 77 meals arrived at Jenni-Lynn just as the residents were gathering for lunch. The meal was especially satisfying for one resident — Dee Mika.
Mika is a parishioner at St. Peter’s and has donated financially to the Thanksgiving meal for years. Before she was disabled, she helped with a similar but much smaller effort in Tennessee.
She found it ironic that she was now a beneficiary of the effort.
“This is amazing,” she said before opening her styrofoam plate. “Doesn’t it look delicious?”