Diners, volunteers say holiday camaraderie makes annual LINK Thanksgiving Dinner special

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Volunteers fill the trays of diners at the annual LINK Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022. About 20 volunteers served about 100 diners at First Christian Church.

Dozens of people came to First Christian Church’s basement Thursday for the Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, and they weren’t just there for the turkey, dressing, pie and other traditional fixings.

“I know the food is going to be good, but I’m here for the company,” said Gerald Thomas, of Lawrence, as he chatted with friends waiting on the sidewalk in front of the church. “I haven’t been here for the meal for several years, but I decided I didn’t want to eat alone.”

Lawrence residents William and Mary McGuinness were also in line, along with their son and two grandchildren, and they said they, too, were there to enjoy the company of friends. Although they had just moved to a new home and hadn’t had time to set up the kitchen to prepare a holiday meal, the couple said it was the camaraderie that prompted them to come to the dinner at the church.

“We volunteered to serve the meal for several years, but we decided we’d have the meal this year,” Mary said. “It’s a wonderful experience.”

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Lifelong Douglas County resident Steven Wood enjoys his meal at the LINK Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Working the entry door to the church basement, Bonnie Reedy, of Lawrence, said she was there to renew friendships with those she met during past LINK Thanksgiving meals.

“I’m here to see old friends,” she said, as she welcomed five diners in from the line waiting on the sidewalk. “It’s been great so far.”

As she handed out muffins to diners, Rasha Adhima, of Lawrence, said she volunteered to help serve the meal for the first time this year.

“I wanted to have the experience,” she said. “I brought my son, so he could also have the experience. It’s a nice feeling.”

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Rasha Adhima, left, serves muffins at the LINK Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in the basement of the First Christian Church.

Reedy and Adhima were among the roughly 20 volunteers who helped serve the meal in the church basement, said LINK Board President Anne Emert.

“We were expecting about 100 (diners), but it looks like we’re going to have more than that,” she said about 20 minutes after the doors to the basement were opened at 1 p.m.

Whatever the final number of meals served at the church turns out to be, far more were delivered to residents throughout Douglas County. Emert said another 60 volunteers delivered about 750 meals. The volunteers working on Thursday were just the tip of the iceberg of those who make the annual meal possible.

“It’s difficult to say how many volunteers we have when you count the work of the churches and those who worked yesterday putting the meals together,” Emert said. “There’s hundreds of volunteers.”

She singled out one in particular for special mention: LINK board member Deb Engstrom, who plays a major role in planning the annual event.

“Deb makes this all come together,” Emert said. “She’s invaluable.”

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Diners enjoy their food at the LINK Thanksgiving Dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, at First Christian Church. About 100 people ate at the church, while another 750 received home-delivered meals.