There wasn’t a single stranger at the gymnasium at Veterans Memorial Park Monday night.
Hundreds of community members came out for a free Thanksgiving meal prepared and served by members of the Rotary Club of Dawson County as its way of serving the community.
“Our Rotary Club of Dawson County, we’re very proud to be part of this community and do as much as we can to help our residents,” said Rotarian Randy Wells, as he surveyed the growing crowd.
Wells, along with Tax Commissioner Nicole Stewart and Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore co-chaired the Thanksgiving dinner to make sure everything ran smoothly and that all that stopped by would have a wonderful time.
“It’s just exciting. It’s great to give back. That’s what Rotary is. It’s to give back to Dawson County,” Stewart said.
The dinner was held from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at Veterans Memorial Park and saw over 100 plates of traditional Thanksgiving fixings served up in less than an hour.
“So far it has exceeded our expectations and it looks like we’re going to do easily double what we did last year,” Wells said. “We’ve already got almost 100 people and it’s 5:30.”
By the time 5:30 p.m. rolled around, 90 plates had been served and the gymnasium was filling up with tables full of Dawson County residents of all ages.
“There’s so many people here I’ve talked to. They really are not having Thanksgiving. This is their Thanksgiving and everybody’s a family,” said Rotarian Sharon Hall, as she made her way around the gym.
The line continued to grow and wrap around the spacious gym as more people trickled in to get a jump on their Thanksgiving cravings this week.
Moore and Stewart went shopping at Costco and purchased more than 100 pounds of turkey, ham and other traditional holiday favorites and planned for 250 attendees.
“We did pad it probably for about 300 because me and Christie were scared,” Stewart said. “We thought padding it by 50 was generous.”
Last year was the first time that the Rotary Club had sponsored the Thanksgiving dinner and saw slightly more than 100 people stop by the entire evening.
This year, the co-chairs wanted to work hard to organize and publicize an even bigger event.
“We’re all so excited about the turnout. This has never happened,” Moore said.
By 6 p.m., Rotarians were setting up additional tables and chairs to make sure everyone had a seat and were running quick errands to the store to pick up the quickly depleting supply of sweet tea.
At the end of the night, more than 390 plates of food were served.
“By some miracle we had enough food,” Moore said. “We didn’t have much left over, but we had enough food for everyone.”
For the Rotary Club, preparing a Thanksgiving meal for the community is a way to give back to Dawson County and give the community a chance to come together as a family.
“I think it’s a common misconception that a Thanksgiving dinner’s only for people that don’t have the money, but for us it’s for the entire Dawson County,” said Moore.
The focus for this year’s Thanksgiving meal was to make sure the community knew it was an event for everyone.
“Moving it to Monday night and making it a community event, that made all the difference,” Moore said about the great turnout. “I’m so proud and so excited to see the community come together and to see everyone from all walks of life.”
It was a community effort as Rotarians and members of the Interact Clubs in Dawson County schools volunteered their time to cook and serve homemade meals Monday night. The women of ABBA House cooked the turkeys, hams and stuffing.
And monetary donations from United Community Bank, Associated Credit Union, Medical Plaza 400, Etowah Water and Sewer Authority and Amicalola EMC helped fund the event and made it a success.
The Rotary Club is already making lists and figuring out what they want to do for next year’s community Thanksgiving dinner to make sure it keeps growing each year.