ROGERSVILLE — Volunteering at Rogersville’s annual free Thanksgiving dinner is becoming a tradition for some area families, including Church Hill’s Amber Fisher and her children, who are now on their fourth year in a row.
“I just wanted to, and my kids ask me every year if they can come,” said Fisher, who spent a frosty Thursday morning loading to-go trays with turkey to be delivered across Hawkins County.
“We come because we enjoy it and it’s something we like to do together as a family. I know many families that are struggling and suffering on a first-name basis. I like to be able to give back to them and know they’re going to have what they need.”
Thursday marked the 15th annual People Loving People free Thanksgiving dinner based at Joseph Rogers Primary School.
The event was co-founded by Dr. Blaine Jones, who decided 15 years ago that he would rather create a local free Thanksgiving dinner than send donation checks for one in Knoxville.
Over those 15 years, Jones estimates PLP has served more than 40,000 Thanksgiving dinners, including 3,582 on Thursday, which was an increase of 55 over last year.
“I’ve just been taught to serve people and love people. That’s what Jesus did for us, and I think that’s what we’re supposed to do on this earth,” Jones said. “I think that’s why we’re here, is to love and to serve people. That’s why the People Loving People concept got started, and that’s why we keep trying to do it.”
Volunteers cooked all day Wednesday and well into the night. A new batch of volunteers arrived early Thursday morning to load meals into trays for delivery across Hawkins County, as well as into adjacent counties.
Another group of volunteers served meals in the JRP cafeteria.
Dan Combs of Johnson City volunteered a couple of years ago, and he and his wife decided to join their grandchildren from Surgoinsville in helping out this year as well.
“That’s what they wanted to do this Thanksgiving, so that’s what we’re going,” Mrs. Combs said.
As the sun was coming up Thursday, Combs loaded steaming hot dressing into delivery trays while his wife beside him loaded them with turkey. Meanwhile, the grandkids were working the vegetable line.
“You look around and see all the people who care, and that’s a really good thing,” Combs said. “A lot of people are just trying to help any way they can and try to help people who are a little less fortunate than themselves. It’s an opportunity to thank the Lord for all he’s given to us.”
PLP Thanksgiving by the numbers
Total deliveries: 3140, up 107 from last year
Total served at cafeteria: 269, down 67 from last year
Total meals to go: 173, up 15 from last year
Total meals served: 3,582, up 55 from last year
Volunteers: 389, not including several hundred more who brought desserts and breads
Total food prepared: 700 pounds of ham; 1,100 pounds of turkey; 700 pounds of dressing; 400 pounds of green beans; 400 pounds of corn; 600 pounds of mashed potatoes; 300 pounds of cranberry sauce; 20 gallons of gravy; 3,500 rolls; and 3,500 desserts
All leftovers are distributed to food banks, homeless shelters, etc. No food is left unused.