Thanksgiving has always meant family to me, as it does to a lot people in the United States. So far as I remember, I have only spent one of these holidays with one, if not several, relatives around me.
I had just been transferred to Willows, California--1997. I arrived in April. My mother and two grown sons came to visit, all in June. In October, I traveled to a Toastmasters Conference in Phoenix.
It shouldn't have felt like such a lonely year with so much activity in addition to work, but it did. It has been the first time to transfer alone--my daughter was grown and living in Salem, Oregon; my sons were working and going to college in Phoenix, Arizona, where I had lived before.
When Thanksgiving rolled around, everyone else in the family had other plans, plus we intended to get together for Christmas, so what could I do?
Have you ever experienced the hurt of loneliness? It eats at your insides until you feel like one great big chunk of pain. The empty nest syndrome hit hard.
Then I heard about a yearly event in Willows, Jimmie's Thanksgiving. A woman called Jimmie lived here in Willows who for years had provided a free dinner for anyone who wanted to come. Several volunteers helped her prepare the meal and to serve, and several people and businesses donated turkey and trimmings. I asked them if they needed another volunteer. They did.
We cooked turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, gravy, rolls--all the traditional things. Wow, what a blessing. We served around four hundred people that day.
There were many who didn't have anything they could pay but most threw money, a little or a lot, in a can sitting near the doorway. Wealthy and poverty-stricken sat down side by side. The last scrap of turkey disappeared before the volunteers had a chance to eat, but we didn't care. There were other scraps to eat. My loneliness evaporated faster than the food.
Jimmie has since passed away, but her free dinner continues under the auspices of the Elks Lodge. People still donate turkeys and other foods, people still volunteer to help, and rich and poor still sit together.
Thank You, Lord, for people like Jimmie who care enough to organize things like this, for others who give so generously to put it on, and for the ones who serve. This is a more beautiful world for people like this.