Lisa Oetken stands just outside the kitchen area at the First United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant, gazing out into the cafeteria where table after table is filled with family and friends, new and old. Her sister, Tina Hill, stands a few feet behind Oetken, smiling as she takes in the same scene. It’s the Thanksgiving tradition they had always hoped to create.
“It’s going amazing,” Oetken said. “We’ve had more people coming through than ever before.”
By noon, Oetken said the volunteers had delivered about 50 meals, excluding the ones they had taken to the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and the Mt. Pleasant Police Department.
“I had 200 plates and we’ve done about 125 to 150,” she said about the attendance this year.
This year was special in another way for Oetken. “This year we’ve seen the community rally behind this like never before,” she said. “The number of volunteers and community members come in and eat. It’s amazing.”
Oetken said her and Hill’s vision for the community Thanksgiving wasn’t just for individuals who didn’t have anywhere else to go, but for the community to come together as one. And that’s what she saw Thursday afternoon.
“I am very thankful to be able to do this.”
Tammy Smith had two reasons to attend the community Thanksgiving — her sisters Oetken and Hill. “My sisters are in kitchen and my nephew is serving drinks.”
“It’s nice to see people that we don’t normally see and to meet new people,” Smith said.
Across the cafeteria was John Clark, who was attending his first Community Thanksgiving.
Clark had read about the meal in The News and decided to come down. His favorite part of the meal was the turkey. And the mashed potatoes and gravy. And the green beans. “Oh, and the corn,” he added.
Clark said he enjoyed the afternoon so much, he was planning on making this part of his holiday tradition.
For Nohema Graber and her family, the Mt. Pleasant Community Thanksgiving feels “like home.”
“This is a nice community,” she said. “They are very generous. They treat us very well, so we like to come here every year.”
This was the fourth year the Graber family had celebrated Thanksgiving at the Methodist Church surrounded by neighbors. “We noticed this year they have more people; it’s crowded,” she observed.
When asked what her favorite part of the meal was, Graber exclaimed, “Oh my goodness! One part?” She took a minute to think. The pies were good, as were the vegetables. “Everything is good,” she said.
But it’s not just the superb meal that brings Graber and her family back every year. “They let us feel very welcomed, and that is very important for us. That’s why we come back.”