Meals from the Heart

32 years and 3,000 plates. That’s
what the upcoming holiday is looking like for the staff of the Edmond Community
Thanksgiving Dinner. Each year they cook for the community and serve thousands
of meals made with tons of love.    

It all started in 1981 on
Thanksgiving Day. Frank and Pat Paradise wanted to extend the gift of
Thanksgiving Dinner not only to their six children, but to anyone else who
wanted to join. It was a small act of kindness that would eventually turn into
a huge yearly event. The first year, 20 people showed up for dinner and those
numbers nearly doubled the next Thanksgiving.

Dinner PlateMore than 30 years later, the
dinner is still going on and thousands of plates are being served on Turkey
Day. “At this point, there are four churches involved,” says staff member Mike
Laska. The four churches on the official committee are: First Presbyterian
Church of Edmond, New Covenant United Methodist Church, Saint John the Baptist
Catholic Church and Southern Hills Christian Church. There are a number of
additional churches that also provide helping hands for the dinner as well.
Last Thanksgiving, the staff helped pass out over 3,000 meals. “The growth has
been exponential,” says Laska, “and can be attributed primarily to the
fellowship that the community has when they attend the meal.”

The dinner gives an opportunity
to fellowship for those who have little to no options for Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s one of the primary reasons why Laska and his team are still going strong
32 years after the first event. The staff welcomes the opportunity to meet with
community members each year and looks at the fellowship as a way of giving
back. Laska and his team members reveal the kind hearts behind the mission
through their humility, “We’re just volunteers.”

This year’s Edmond Community
Thanksgiving Dinner will be held at the Nigh University Center at the
University of Central Oklahoma from 11am to 3pm on Thanksgiving Day. Laska and
his team are already preparing for the feast and they are happy to welcome
volunteers to help with the event. The staff starts working months in advance
in preparation for the big day. Donations are accepted to help cover the costs
of the meal and any leftover funds are used to donate to a charitable cause.
“Last year we donated approximately $1,200 to three different organizations,”
says Laska.

While many free dinners are
offered during the Christmas Holiday, Laska is happy that the dinner continues to
provide options for everyone to enjoy a warm meal on Thanksgiving and he has no
plans to slow down. He makes it clear that this event belongs to the community
and will continue as long as there is a need. “We hope to continue as long as
we can get support from the community.” The staff encourages people to come
even if they don’t partake in the meal. While the turkey may bring hundreds of
people rushing through the doors, it’s the warm fellowship that leaves guests
with the warmth of the season that sustains well beyond a single meal.

3000 meals served last year

Number of turkeys prepared: 150

50 gallons of gravy

First community Thanksgiving
dinner: 1981

600 volunteers needed each year

For additional information on the dinner and
volunteer opportunities, please contact the First Presbyterian Church of Edmond
at 405-341-3602.

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