Thousands gather for Lima's annual Thanksgiving meal

November 22, 2012

LIMA — Jamarius Bracey, 7, said what he likes most about the Thanksgiving holiday is spending time with his closest family members.

That’s why the bright-eyed boy and his grandmother, Cathy Bracey, both of Lima, attended this year’s Jerry Lewis’ McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner on Thursday.

“My favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that my family is with me,” said Jamarius Bracey, his arms full of cans of pop to bring back to his family. “I like the turkey.”

Cathy Braceysaid they came to the dinner last year and really enjoyed spending the holiday together.

“It’s a family environment, and they’ve got everything here,” she said.

Really, there was everything needed for a successful Thanksgiving dinner at the Veterans Memorial Civic Center on Thursday, where the event was held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

There were also free Thanksgiving meals offered at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1275 in Lima, Trinity United Methodist Church in Ottawa and St. Joseph Parish Life Center in Wapakoneta.

Jerry Lewis, who owns McDonald’s restaurants in the Lima area, stood in the doorway as people entered the Civic Center, shaking hands with people and wishing them a happy Thanksgiving.

“I tell you, it’s one of the most special days of the year for me personally. It’s funny when I first did this, there were people who didn’t know who I really was and didn’t really want to shake my hand. They kind of stood off from me a little bit,” he said. “Now it’s like I feel like I know everybody personally. They give me a high five. They hug me. They say, ‘God bless you.’ It’s just become a very important day in my life.”

He said his staff of the day, consisting of more than 400 volunteers, diligently worked to prepare the meals. Nearly 30 of them worked a majority of the day Wednesday, and even more joined Thursday morning to aid in preparation.

“We turn away probably 200 volunteers every year,” he said. “We’ve already got the list started for next year. People definitely want to help, and that’s so encouraging. We had to cut the list off at 400 because there’s not enough tasks, and we want to be responsiblewith people’s time.”

Lewis said last year, the turnout was around 3,200 meals, so his team prepared at least that many plates this year. This year marked Lewis’ eighth year of putting on the free dinner and event.

“We have 800 pounds of turkey. That’s not with the bone in,” he said. “We got at least 200 pies, 800 mashed potatoes.”

There was also water and cans of pop available for people to enjoy along with the meal. All of the food is bought and made by McDonald’s.

While the meal was arguably the main attraction, there was also a band, "Waiting for our Souls," playing as entertainment for diners.

Just beyond the divider of the room, people could grab groceries to take with them. There was free clothing that people could pick up on their way out. The clothing was provided by Only Believe Ministries, out of Botkins.

“Every year, they bring a big school bus, and they provide us with all of the clothes,” Lewis said. “All of the food everybody gets to take food home, that comes from Maverick Media and Save-A-Lot Foods. And Save-A-Lot Foods, they are wonderful. They do a huge drive with Maverick Media for us. And then the Boy Scouts are also involved for the food drive and putting all the food in bags for us and helping pass them out.”

Volunteers come from everywhere, including one man who traveled all the way from a town outside Heidelberg, Germany. Norbert Fritz, who has known Lewis for more than 30 years, flew to the United States to help volunteer and spend time with his old pal.

“I wanted to be part of the event today because Jerry had told me about the event and I said, ‘I want to see that,’” he said, taking a break from passing out trays. “It’s wonderful to see all of these people happy here. It is once a year that you have a chance to make people happy, and that’ s just wonderful."