The aroma of baked ham, roast turkey and other gastronomic delights filled the Memorial Recreation Center in Hagerstown on Thursday during a free Thanksgiving dinner.
Carolyn Sterling, a volunteer who helped organize the meal, said the inaugural Community Partnership Event was hosted by a number of local churches and nonprofit organizations as a way to unite people on one of the most charitable days of the year.
“This was a perfect place to have it — right in the middle of everything,” Sterling said. “It’s been beautiful the way everyone has come together.”
She said donors provided enough ham, turkey, potatoes, stuffing and other holiday fare to feed 500 people. Within the first hour of the dinner, which lasted from noon to 4 p.m., more than 175 people had been fed.
“We’re just so blessed with all of the turnout that’s been here already,” Sterling said.
Hagerstown resident Chrissy Rubino said she attended the event because she didn’t have time to prepare a Thanksgiving meal at home this year.
“I had to work so it was hard to make dinner today,” she said. “It’s nice that they’re doing this for the community — for people who don’t have anywhere to go. The food was great and they give you a lot, too.”
People from all parts of Washington County showed up to volunteer, including six of the youth from Oak Hill House, a group home for boys near Clear Spring.
Oak Hill House employee Shelton Love said the group home provides counseling for boys from all over the state who have experienced minor brushes with the law.
On Thursday, the youngsters volunteered to help clean up.
“I think they’re learning a very good lesson,” Love said. “It’s important to teach them to give to others. It’s not just about them.”
Love’s wife, Lisa, said she also signed up to volunteer on Thursday.
“It’s important to give back to the community,” she said. “We’re certainly blessed. We wanted to make sure everybody gets that feeling.”
Organizers said they hope the Community Partnership Event will be held for many years to come.