Annie Creech stirred a pot full of breaded stuffing to make dinner for thousands on Thanksgiving Day.
The Huber Heights cook was part of an army of 500 volunteers ready to serve 8,000-to-10,000 people at the yearly Feast of Giving turkey dinner with all the fixings. She was part of a sprawling scene of people milling around dinner tables, and serving lines filled with turkey and pie inside the Dayton Convention Center.
Creech, 36, joked that she was getting an upper-body workout while she stirred pot after pot of more than a ton of stuffing to keep the supply moving.
“It’s been awhile since I’ve helped the community and it just feels good to help people that don’t have anything,” she said.
The gathering attracts people of all ages and backgrounds who come together one day as a community, many interacting with strangers they have never met.
“We bill this as the largest community Thanksgiving event in the world,” said Michael Shane, 56, an organizer who lives in Oakwood. “It’s our charter to make sure it never stops … to never take it away from the community.”
Many show up for the camaraderie of a shared meal.
Julia A. Cook, 82, of Jefferson Twp., a retired Wright-Patterson supervisor, sat across the table from Gary Conley, 59, a retired Dayton truck driver.
“My son passed away and I just seem like I have to come down here,” Cook said, marking her fifth year at the gathering.
Conley attended Feast of Giving for the first time. He said he wanted to volunteer with the cleanup.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “I had no idea it was going to be anything like this. This place is packed.”
Across the room, Laeeta Calloway, 38, of Dayton, marked Thanksgiving with her 16-year-old daughter, Dynasty.
“Me and my daughters always come so we don’t have to be by ourselves on the holidays,” Calloway said. “I just like being around people. I’m a people person.”
She’s a fan of pumpkin pie, too. “I love the desserts,” she said. “I come for the desserts.”
Twenty-two cooks, mostly volunteers, prepare 4,00o pounds of turkey, 2,500 pounds each of mashed potatoes and stuffing, and 2,200 pounds of green beans. They serve 400 pounds of cole slaw, 800 pounds of cranberry sauce and at least 750 pies, according to Dayton Convention Center executive chef Steven Newsome.
“It’s been a week-long process,” Newsome said. “It’s a huge team effort.”
James Gross, 62, of Kettering, volunteered in the kitchen, helping mix and serve stuffing.
“I see myself in a lot of the folks out there years ago,” said Gross, a rehabilitation center patient assistant. “I was borderline homeless and needed a place to eat like this.”
Organizers stepped in nine years ago when the Beerman Foundation, which had sponsored the event since 1969, announced plans to end the Thanksgiving tradition in Dayton.
Corporate sponsors cover the $70,000-to-$100,000 cost of the gathering, which also distributes free hats and gloves to those in need.
“The whole purpose of this is to bring the community together,” said Stephen Levitt, 74, a dermatologist and an organizer who pushed to keep the tradition alive.
“Although we may serve 9,000-to-10,000 people, our goal is to get this to zero. We hope that everyone one day will have enough funds and means for their own Thanksgiving dinner with their friends and family.”