A Needham couple first got involved with the county’s annual Thanksgiving banquet when they wanted a holiday meal, but weren’t cooking one themselves.
Pat and Curt Dillon’s adult sons had other holiday plans, and they didn’t want to make a big meal for themselves, so they decided to check out the annual Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet. Immediately, they were impressed with the event and wanted to get involved.
“We went one year and thought it was pretty nice, so we thought there’s got to be something we can do to help out,” Pat Dillon said.
In the past several years, they have served meals, helped clean up, organized volunteers and served on the board for the annual banquet.
They have gotten to know some of the people who come to eat every year, including an elderly couple who always come in holding hands and thank the volunteers. They help members of the community get a hot meal, volunteer with friends, new and old, and give back to their community, Pat Dillon said.
The Dillons join about 300 volunteers who put on the annual event. The Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet has served several hundred people every year since its inception in 2008. The meal at the Johnson County Fairgrounds is free and open to anyone who wants to come and eat turkey and sides, such as potatoes and corn, rolls and dessert. This year, they expect to feed more than 800 people.
Every year, event organizers ask for volunteers who do everything from preparing food and tables in advance, to cooking, setting out desserts, cleaning up and delivering meals to homebound residents. But they also know they can count on some of their longtime volunteers returning year after year.
For Teena Findley, a Franklin resident, getting involved with the banquet seemed like a great way to volunteer, and stay busy during the holiday, since her grown children live out of state or have their own family plans.
Since getting involved several years ago, Findley has done various tasks, including the important job of preparing the desserts. This year, she’ll be taking the temperature of the turkeys. She also joined the board this year, and continues to be impressed with the passion of the group.
“I’ve been very impressed that a small group of people put this on so efficiently. They’ve just got such a heart for it,” she said.
“The people I’ve worked with are really fun — you get to meet different people that way. It’s kind of neat.”
Gary Walker, pastor of Connection Church of Franklin, has steered many members of his congregation to volunteer at the banquet as part of the outreach their church does year-round. He wants the church to connect with their community and God, he said.
“God is generous, so we try to be generous of our time, talents and treasures,” he said.
Walker and his group of 15 to 20 volunteers started out de-boning turkeys one year, and every year the group has continued serving at the banquet. One of the most fun tasks they have done is packing the meals that are delivered to residents at home, since groups of volunteers get to work together.
“That’s kind of fun, standing in lines, putting our thing on the plate and then getting to know the other people,” he said.
Walker and the other volunteers from his church also take the time to greet the visitors and ask if there’s anything they can pray with them about. The banquet brings together so many people and allows them to help others in so many ways, he said.
“Its unique in that it’s not funded or the volunteers don’t come from one particular church of denomination. They come from a variety of churches, and individuals as well,” he said.
“Every half hour, different pastors say a quick prayer, thanking volunteers, praising God for people who are there and looking for opportunities to engage them in conversation. As they feed them physically, you can minister to them spiritually.”
The banquet helps a variety of people, from homeless teens through KIC-IT to residents who are unable to leave home and have a meal delivered to them, Findley said.
“I think it touches people who maybe feel alone and they have the opportunity to eat with other people and meet with other people,” she said.
The banquet touches so many lives, including people of all backgrounds who want a good meal on the holiday, Dillon said.
“It’s also people who are single, widowed, divorced, who don’t have family in the area. We have whole families who come — mothers, fathers, grandparents, kids. Some of them just don’t have the money to put on a big spread,” she said.
What: Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday
Where: Scott Hall on the Johnson County fairgrounds in Franklin