For one night, the Hammon Senior Center was turned into a well-stocked restaurant, complete with festive décor and heartwarming, genuine smiles for one hundred hungry patrons.
Attendants pulled into the Hammon Senior Center by 4:30 p.m., and were granted special treatment as volunteer escorts led the masses in, one-by-one, with the aid of an umbrella to shield the guests from rain. Many of the volunteers consisted of students from Creekside Middle School and Patterson High School, as well as volunteers from local Girl Scout Troop 2253; each were dressed to the nines in black and white dresses, vests, ties and uniforms.
The youths also acted as hosts, servers, and the occasional conversation starter, according to program director Lori Schumacher of the Center for Human Services.
To help keep the conversation light and fun, various youths sat in empty seats at the community tables, encouraging discussion between those that seemed in need of friendship, as well as expanding community efforts for the youths to civilly present themselves.
“This event is a perfect opportunity for our community to come together,” said Vanessa Cuellar, a youth supervisor at the Patterson Teen Center. “Thanksgiving is about being thankful and sharing, and we wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to enjoy their meal here in Patterson. We also wanted to get a good conversation going between the youth and the community members, which is very important.”
Also in attendance, and offering their volunteering services was Wal-Mart manager Troy McMahan and his wife Susi —a professional caterer, who manned the kitchens and cooked nine turkeys for consumption, as well as peeled over 200 pounds of potatoes for the event. For nearly two days, the couple prepared for the large onslaught of consumers, and happily busied themselves in the kitchen throughout the entire evening.
“I’m just glad to be part of the community,” said Troy, who busily cooked alongside his wife and various other staffers.
Also in the kitchen was after school program coordinator Alysonn Cassidy of the Paterson Joint Unified School District, who tossed salads and kept the rolls coming.
“It’s a wonderful turnout,” said Cassidy. “I’m just grateful to be in a community that can come together and put on something special like this. Just looking out over the room, you see people talking and enjoying themselves and really coming along. Thanksgiving is a time I’m blessed, and I like to share time with the people I love. This provides that for others, who normally wouldn’t be able to have a nice dinner for the holidays.”
The menu featured a series of Thanksgiving favorites, including the ever popular turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, lemonade, Fall water, mashed potatoes and gravy, peach cobbler, salad and rolls.
First time visitors were blown away by the spread, including community member Michelle Green. Green originally heard about the event last year from her daughter, who is a member of Troop 2253 and a local volunteer.
“I didn’t expect this to be on such a grand scale,” said Green with a smile. “Those who put it on did an amazing job. Even the volunteers are happy! They are doing this with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts. That’s what makes it worthwhile. Fed people are happy people.”
Schumacher was pleased with the community’s input, and comically acknowledged how the event has grown from its initial standpoint.
“Other communities have large Thanksgiving dinners. We should, too,” said Schumacher. “One of our staff members does a big community Thanksgiving dinner where the whole community comes out. I can see this moving in that direction. The holidays are not always an easy time for people, and I’m glad tonight meant a lot to so many people.”
Schumacher acknowledged that the event wouldn’t be a success without the help of the volunteers, the city or her staff at the Center for Human Services.
“Everyone had a big role in this. I’m glad that it has been such a success,” she said.
Contact Brooke Borba at 892, 6187, ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.