Gratitude abounds as LINK feeds cold, hungry on Thanksgiving Day

Mother-daughter volunteer pairs — from left, Lisa Rickard, of Shawnee, and Sandy Rickard, of Lawrence, and Jana Tuttle and Jennifer Tuttle, both of Lawrence — help serve Thanksgiving meals Thursday at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, 221 W. 10th St.

There were countless “thank yous” this Thanksgiving at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, 221 W. 10th St.

The gratitude expressed by those with hungry tummies was overwhelming, with many first-time volunteers left in awe after doling out turkey for hours.

Bishop Seabury Academy sixth-grader Ivan Calderon, 11, said he hopes his family will make serving those in need a new holiday tradition.

“I brought my parents with me because we weren’t traveling for Thanksgiving, so we decided to come here and help out,” Calderon said. “It’s fun. I like meeting new people.”

Chris White, 52, of Ozawkie, brought his three children, 11-year-old Anthony, 7-year-old Alexis and 9-year-old Athena, to the feast after the children’s grandmother decided she didn’t want to cook this year. Though it was a dreary, soaking-wet day, White said the company of his alliteratively named children made the holiday bright.

“I call them my Triple A happiness,” White said. “It doesn’t matter how life gets me down, these three make me happy.”

From left, Anthony, 11, Alexis, 7, and Athena White, 9, all of Scranton, listen to their father, Chris White, of Ozawkie, as they enjoy Thanksgiving dinner Thursday at the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen, 221 W. 10th St.

White had just three hours of sleep after working the night shift at the American Eagle Outfitters Distribution Center before waking with his children Thursday morning. The single father had to work on Thanksgiving night, but asked his children what they were thankful for before the four traipsed off to Grandma’s house.

“Family and friends,” Athena said.

“Food, Jesus and the USA,” Alexis noted.

“Family and friends and God and life and food and Jesus and America,” Anthony added.

White said he was “thankful for this food from the church.”

The Whites were four of more than one hundred diners at the LINK kitchen for the holiday. And even before the first meal was served, LINK volunteers had delivered 530 turkey dinners to those who couldn’t make the trip out, LINK director Greg Moore said.

Moore said it was not difficult to find volunteers for this year’s Thanksgiving meal. Dozens of people have been calling him to help out for some time now.

“People started to call the past couple days, and we were already filled up a month ago,” Moore said.

Moore only had spaces for 15 volunteers. He chose many of them because it was their first time helping out on the holiday. Two such volunteers were David and Lois Dutcher, who moved to Lawrence about four years ago after David retired from his work as a pastor in New Jersey.

“Usually we are with our family on Thanksgiving, but they had their own plans,” David Dutcher said. “We’re doing this this year, and we’ve been looking forward to it. This is a better kind of work.”

For Shawn Bedient, 45, it wasn’t the first time he’d spent a Thanksgiving at LINK. About 20 years ago, he found himself in the same place, he said, and remembered a Journal-World photographer taking his picture then. Since then, he’s become a regular at LINK as he’s had to resort to living beneath a tarp with all of his belongings crammed inside a backpack.

“I wish I didn’t have to spend Thanksgiving here anymore,” Bedient said. “But once you’re down to the pack level, it’s hard to get back up.”

Still, Bedient — who is locally known for wearing his chain-metal armor throughout the streets of Lawrence — said he is “glad to have” the LINK dinner to warm him up on the cold holiday. He went back for seconds after eating his first tray of turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pie and pumpkin bread.

“I try to eat two plates, because otherwise I will be hungry by night,” Bedient said as he dug into his mashed potatoes. “I go out to the street to ring a bell for donations to buy dinner, but I only made a dollar yesterday.”