In a space normally reserved for civic meetings and business events, families were served a free traditional, sit-down Thanksgiving Day feast Thursday at EdVenture Children’s Museum.
It was a first for the museum, catching by surprise some visitors who were out Thanksgiving morning simply because they were thrilled to have a place to take the kids on a holiday.
“We came over to EdVenture because I heard that they were open and they may have a reduced wait, something to keep the kids busy, and while we were here we heard about the dinner,” said Karen Reid of Columbia. She was watching her grandkids for the morning while their parents did service work Thursday at the Carolina Coliseum, where another community Thanksgiving meal was being served.
“Since I wanted to do something conventional with my family, this is perfect. We’re already here, so we participated.”
The EdVenture meal was an outgrowth of staff conversations about the larger body of work the museum is involved with, beyond activities for the children, according to Karen Coltrane, EdVenture’s CEO.
“We run a children’s museum, but actually, nationally, we are known for all the programs it does outside the museum,” Coltrane said. “When I came down here a couple of years ago to be CEO, I was so surprised at how that isn’t as well known in Columbia.”
After-school programs, community cooking classes done in conjunction with the Housing Authority, and partnerships with literacy programs and book distribution all are part of the EdVenture’s outreach operations, Coltrane said. “Really, folks just don’t know all that we do. We’re really a human service organization (one of EdVenture’s core values), with a museum attached to it.”
They prepared enough food to serve 250 people – whoever walked through the doors – with the intent to send any leftovers home with staff and volunteers who came out to help, so they could enjoy it with their families, Coltrane said. EdVenture also opened for the first time this year on Easter Sunday, in order to accommodate visitors at a time that offered more convenience, Coltrane said.
The Zaatar family, including Wafaa, 13, Dib, 10, Abdulrahamn, 9, Amal, 7, and Omar, 8 months, shared in the free feast with their mother, Randa Dakwar, at the museum in a personal means of giving thanks. “We like EdVenture,” Randa said. “We always come to EdVenture. My kids enjoy all the activities here.”
They found out about the feast on Facebook, Randa said, and the children encouraged their mother to bring them to the event. Immigrants from Lebanon, the family has been in the United States for five years, she said, and they have no other family here.
Though Thanksgiving is not a holiday celebration in their native country, “Everybody likes Thanksgiving, because we have to thank God for everything we have.” They enjoyed turkey, macaroni and cheese, and bread. “My kids, they are in school and they (the school) celebrated Thanksgiving, and we are part of this country. I just got my citizenship – I think I am American,” Randa Dakwar said.
Just down the road at Carolina Coliseum, St. Peter’s Catholic Church and First Baptist Church once again combined efforts to put on the 26th Annual Interfaith Dinner, where they expected to feed a free Thanksgiving meal to 1,500 to 2,000 guests and send food for 1,200 others to various nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the community.
The feast initially was held outside, on the street, because they had no other suitable venue until USC made the coliseum available, where the event has been hosted ever since said Robert Keeder, the meal’s coordinator.
“Unfortunately, the need has grown,” Keeder said. “I wish I could tell somebody something other than that. I wish I could say the crowd is diminishing in the community of Columbia because more people are working, because there’s more help (available) to give to people. But that’s not the case.”
In addition to those who come for the meal, an army of volunteers is on hand to serve diners. Annette Halter of Cayce, and her children Blessed, Bethany, and Benjamin attended Thursday’s events as servers.
“I wanted them to see life in all its dimensions, to see what life could be like,” Halter said.
Nobody should spend Thanksgiving or Christmas alone, Reeder said.
“I just can’t see anybody not caring enough to want to do something about ministering to people, especially on the holidays,” said Keeder, noting that he grew up in an orphanage, where they made a “big deal” out of birthdays, Christmas and Thanksgiving.
That is the driving light behind the annual feast, which this year saw higher numbers than in previous years, perhaps because of the clear, warm weather, Keeder said.
“The work has to continue, because the work is not our work, but the Lord’s work,” Keeder said. “He gets all the honor and all the glory.”
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398