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By M.K. Luther -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The community once again united Thursday to give thanks over a meal at the First Presbyterian Church on South Loudoun Street in Winchester.
The Annual Salvation Army Thanksgiving Day dinner was held in the church's Fellowship Hall, supplying a generous meal to those who might not have another place to go on the holiday.
For Winchester residents Geraldine and Richard Danner, their first time at the dinner was a heartwarming welcome to the church's holiday event.
"It is spectacular," Geraldine said. "The meal was put on in a nice way and the people are very nice and everything. I have never seen so much help like this."
The dinner, a collaboration between the church and the local Salvation Army, has become an honored tradition over the years, attracting numerous volunteers from outside the congregation and hundreds of attendees.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for people to give back -- to give back to the community and give back to the Lord," said coordinator Lynn McCauley of First Presbyterian Church.
With preparations starting at least three months in advance, the dinner boasts servings that total 100 pounds of turkey, 100 pounds of mashed potatoes and at least 18 pans of dressing, McCauley said.
The turkeys are either donated by individuals or provided by the Salvation Army, with church volunteers in charge of meal preparation and cooking.
McCauley said between 200 to 300 people would dine at the church and a total of 170 volunteers also would deliver 400 meals to homes in Winchester, Frederick and Clarke counties. Carry-home meals also are available, and many people take another meal or leftovers home, McCauley said.
As the dinner has evolved over the years, the local Salvation Army chapter partnered with the church to allow enough space to serve more of the community, said Al and Danitza Porras, lieutenants for the Winchester Salvation Army Corps.
"That is our message to the community -- that we love you and we are here to serve you," Al said.
The dinner gives the community a chance to share the holiday, bringing people together and making a family out of strangers for one day.
"It is not only the meal, but also the companionship," Danitza said. "There are people who are by themselves or have family far away or are just alone or homeless."
The volunteers are delivering warmth, cheer and friendship along with a meal, often to people who do not normally receive such, Danitza said.
"Everybody is serving so much love and kindness and there are people who, unfortunately, are not used to that and don't have that," Danitza said. "So, it is more than the meal, but also the taking care of the person on this special occasion."
Laurie Morrison, a volunteer who also gives her time at a local soup kitchen, kept busy by working in the kitchen to prepare the vast portions of turkey and standard Thanksgiving fare such as dressing, cranberries and desserts.
The volunteers can come away from the dinner as fulfilled, if not more, than the dinner's attendees, Morrison said.
"It is the easiest and most painless way of giving back and making a lot of people satisfied," Morrison said.
Bob Williams, of Delaplane, has volunteered at six dinners, relishing in bringing joy to others on Thanksgiving.
"[It is about] enjoying the smiles that come upon the faces of those that receive here," Williams said. "I, too, will receive here -- and smile."