Volunteers serve more than 3,000 Thanksgiving dinners

KEVIN HARVISON | Staff photoForm left, Miller Newman, Pam Smith and Jim Kelley, who were among those volunteering to help debone turkeys for the annual Pittsburg County Community Thanksgiving Dinner, are shown during the meal preparations. Volunteers said they were able to serve this year's meals in near-record time.

Volunteers helping with the 34th Annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner served more than 3,000 meals at this year's event.

"We had a little over, 3,000," said Jim Kelley, one of the organizers of the annual dinner. He placed the final tally at approximately 3,005.

"We probably done a little bit more than last year," Kelley said.

Kelley joined with other volunteers, including a number of Pittsburg County elected officials and their staffs, to serve the annual holiday dinner free of charge to anyone in Pittsburg County who wanted to participate. Volunteers prepared the meals and made them available for carryouts or deliveries to those who had no way to pick up the meals themselves.

Out of the more than 3,000 meals prepared, some 2,200 were carryouts, said Kelley, referring to meals people picked up at the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management to take home with them on Thanksgiving Day. Most of the others were deliveries, although some accepted the invitation to join the volunteers for a sit-down dinner at the site.

This year, to expedite the process, volunteers formed a second serving line to dish up the meals. It proved highly successful.

"We got them out in close to record time," Kelley said.

During the weeks leading up to the event, workers in Pittsburg County Clerk Hope Trammell's office took calls from those wanting to participate, with County Assessor Michelle Fields helping coordinate the requests for meals and deliveries.

Trammell also felt pleased at how this year's dinner worked out.

"It went really, really well," Trammell said. "Everybody that came to pick up their meals were very, very friendly. They were very thankful for the assistance they were receiving."

County Commission Chairman/District 2 Commission Kevin Smith joined District 1 Commissioner Charlie Rogers and District 3 Commissioner Ross Selman in helping out on Thanksgiving Day, as well as during some of the prior preparations. Smith said Rogers and Selman did more of the serving, while he had the job of making sure there was ample food available.

"I was in charge of making sure they didn't run out of dressing," said Smith.

Rogers said more people helped out this year.

"It seems like there were more volunteers," he said.

Selman also felt setting up the two serving lines this year worked out well and he also noted the increased number of volunteers.

"Things flowed a lot smoother over there," he said.

Intermittent rain that fell in McAlester and Pittsburg County on Thanksgiving Day didn't place a damper on the community dinner. Even in the one area where the volunteers were down — making home deliveries — everything worked out.

Although not as many volunteers showed up to help with deliveries when compared to past years, those who did took on more deliveries than usual, staying around to make sure everyone got served, Smith said.

At one point, it looked as if more help would be needed. Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management Director Kevin Smith sent  out a group text to all of the fire departments in the county asking for additional volunteers and a number of firefighters  showed up to help, greatly augmenting the volunteers already assisting.

Some volunteers noted the huge roles taken on by Kelley, along with other longtime event organizers Charlene Spears, Tommy Graham and David Spillman. Others, such as Miller Newman, also show up consistently to assist in the project year-after-year.

Longtime volunteers were joined this year by others  assisting with the community dinner for the first time.

"There were some new folks this year," Smith said.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com

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