LIMA — Thousands of free Thanksgiving meals were distributed in downtown Lima Thursday in what one event organizer said is a spirit of togetherness he hopes will linger throughout the remainder of the holiday season and well beyond.
Veterans Memorial Civic Center was abuzz with activity from late morning until early afternoon as nearly 300 volunteers — many of them affiliated with the Lima Community Church, which put on Thursday’s event — prepared and distributed some 3,000 turkey dinners to anyone who passed through the center’s doors.
“This is awesome, man,” said Jonathon Burkey, an associate pastor at Lima Community Church. “We just want to bring our community together around the same table. And we hope that the spirit of togetherness that is fostered here carries over throughout the rest of the year.”
The annual event is a 30-year tradition in Lima. Started by the Chester Cary family in 1989, the free Thanksgiving meal was overseen for the previous 13 years by Jerry Lewis, owner of several McDonald’s restaurants throughout the region. This year was the first time Lima Community Church assumed the leadership role for the dinner.
Burkey said the church’s 1,600-member congregation is a generous group of caring individuals, but was also quick to point out that the church — located at the corner of Cole and Diller streets — has had a great deal of help in staging the event.
He said sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Bob Evans, Rightway Foods and D&D Ingredients have made financial contributions to make the free dinners possible. Save-A-Lot Stores and Woof Boom Radio teamed up to conduct a food drive which also was crucial to the event, Burkey said.
“The giving spirit of people is amazing,” Burkey said.
But the associate pastor also stressed that Thursday’s free dinner — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans — was not simply a case of helping those less fortunate during this holiday season.
“We want to get away from the stereotype of this event being for those who are immersed in poverty,” Burkey said. “This is about everybody getting together and having a meal with their neighbors.”
Sephus Hoskin of Lima couldn’t agree more. He’s been coming to the annual Thanksgiving event for nearly half of its 30-year life span.
“If not for God, this would not be possible,” Hoskin said. “Love one another; that’s the best thing. You’ve got to believe and you’ve got to have faith.”
Charles Hicks was enjoying his free meal, joined by his niece and nephew — Rosa and Gabriel White.
“It’s nice to come here once a year and enjoy a good meal … and it’s really good this year!” he said.
Walter Huffer of Lima is a regular at the Thanksgiving day dinner. He admitted that he can afford to buy a meal for Thanksgiving, “but I like to come here; to be around the people and enjoy the fellowship.”
The large meeting room in the civic center was divided Thursday into two equal halves. In the north side, meals were being served left and right. In the south room were rows and rows of tables filled to the brim with clothing items, all courtesy of Only Believe Ministries in Botkins. Anyone who came to the civic center on Thursday was welcomed to take whatever they needed.
For at least one day, the spirit of togetherness was alive and very, very much on display in Lima.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.