With all of the turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and other trimmings, thinking of anything but food at Thanksgiving can be difficult.

But the holiday also allows people to think about the blessings they’ve received and to share those with neighbors who may not have as much.

At the annual Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet, people can celebrate in both ways. People are invited to again come together for food and fellowship at the free event Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, inside Scott Hall at the Johnson County fairgrounds.

The banquet will feature turkey and the traditional sides, rolls and desserts. Homebound residents can arrange to have a meal delivered.

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Organizers say the event is an opportunity to unite as a community.

“On Thanksgiving Day, we’re all cooped up in our own houses, and we don’t really see what else is going on around town,” said Richard Goss, owner of Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza and chairman of the banquet committee. “But when you get out to the banquet, it moves you to see all of the smiles on the families and the people who might not have a Thanksgiving dinner at all.”

The banquet was established in 2008, when church and civic leaders wanted to create a healing event to help the ailing community following that summer’s devastating floods. Local resident Pat Thacker intended to cook for people who lost their kitchens in the floods, and that idea grew to include about 600 meals that first year.

As following years brought recession and economic strife, more and more people attended. More than 900 meals were served in 2016, and Goss anticipates more than 1,000 will be served this year.

“It seems to increase every year,” Goss said.

The banquet is arranged by a committee of volunteers from throughout the county who handle all of the preparations, such as securing Scott Hall, ordering the food and organizing the small army of people who give their time to put it on.

On the day of the event itself, more than 200 volunteers help cook, serve meals, clear tables and wash dishes, among other jobs.

“It’s a great opportunity for people, and a majority of our volunteers are back year to year because it is such a heartwarming experience,” Goss said. “They can see that it is a need and it really is contributing to community.”

For organizers of the banquet, fundraising is a constant concern, Goss said. The meal costs between $5,000 to $6,000 to stage, and all of that comes from the generosity of the community.

Every year is stressful trying to figure out if the donations will come in on time, Goss said.

To help build in a financial cushion and ensure the banquet is on stable ground, organizers have been working with Johnson County businesses to secure multi-year donation commitments.

“This will take the uncertainty out of it. In past years, we’ve pulled it off, but that depended on some last-minute donations that happened,” Goss said. “In order for us to meet and know that it’s going to happen, to have it handled just a little bit earlier, would ensure this is something we can keep going year to year.”

If you go

Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 23

Where: Scott Hall at Johnson County fairgrounds

What: A full turkey dinner will be served free of charge. No reservations are required. Delivery to homebound residents will also be available, though arrangements need to be made in advance.

How to make arrangements: For homebound delivery, call (317) 662-0199 or email turkeydinner@johnsoncountybanquets.org.

Information: (317) 662-0199, turkeydinner@johnsoncountybanquets.org, Facebook.com/JohnsonCoBanquets

Donations: Can be made through PayPal at Johnson County Banquets, or by cash or check sent to Johnson County Banquets, P.O. Box 207, Franklin, IN 46131

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.