To many people, Thanksgiving is an excuse to eat, watch football or plan for and begin holiday shopping.

But many Johnson County residents use the day to reflect on their blessings and to help others in need.

For example, this afternoon at the Johnson County fairgrounds, dozens of families will gather for a free holiday meal. For many, this not only will be the big meal of the day, it might even be the only meal today. Others will be there just to celebrate the holiday.

Dozens of other families will receive meals delivered to their homes. Many of these are shut-ins with no transportation.

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The effort started in 2008 in the aftermath of the flood that devastated parts of Johnson County. It was meant to be a way to come together and to give communal thanks and celebrate recovery efforts. Since then, it has grown each year.

The meal is open for free to residents looking for a place to gather and also is meant to ensure people and families who would have trouble affording everything that typically goes into Thanksgiving dinner have a nice holiday meal.

The number of residents who attend has been going up, especially as food prices rise, and the elderly and people on fixed incomes have to cut other expenses.

And the entire effort is coordinated, served and delivered by volunteers. They give up their holiday because, like the name of the holiday itself, it is their way of giving thanks for their many blessings, even if they don’t say so specifically.

That trait characterizes thousands of people across Johnson County. They volunteer every day in myriad ways to help those in need and to make the community a better place to live.

Now that the holiday shopping season is upon us, there will be numerous requests for assistance, such as The Salvation Army and Toys for Tots. And once again, area residents will respond with almost unbounded generosity.

So as you sit down to your holiday meal today, whether it’s at the fairgrounds with dozens of friends you’ve never met, at home or at a restaurant, pause to give thanks to the army of volunteers throughout the county who make the community a better place throughout the year.

At issue

Today’s holiday is traditionally set aside as a day to give thanks for our blessings.

Our point

The volunteer efforts shown by today’s community meal reflect local residents’ willingness to help others.

If you go

What: Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today

Where: Johnson County fairgrounds, Scott Hall, 250 Fairground St., Franklin

How much: Free, donations accepted

Who: All are welcome.