Staff Photo: John Bohn Izabel Nolan, 3, take a big bite of bread during a Thanksgiving Day meal with her extended family, served by volunteers at Sugarloaf United Methodist Church. Thanksgiving meals were served to needy people, or those with no other place to go on Thanksgiving day.
DULUTH -- If just one person had come, it would have all been worthwhile.
Sugarloaf United Methodist Church served a hearty Thanksgiving meal to hundreds of needy people from around the Duluth area Thursday, volunteers dishing out turkey, ham, green beans and potatoes. Volunteer drivers bused in those in need from around the city for the meal that ran from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
They had food for about 300, though Tami Dillard, one of the event's organizers, said early on that nothing would have stopped them from serving more.
"If we have more than that, that would just be a blessing," Dillard said. "We'll find the food somewhere."
Dillard's small group at the church dreamed up the idea in October, posting fliers across the community. By Oct. 15, it was "a monster." They got so many volunteers they had to begin turning them away.
"This area needed it," Dillard said. "There's just nothing. We just really felt like we wanted to do something in our own backyard."
The day's festivities were more than just a meal, too. Children were invited to play on the playground and do arts and crafts. Plenty of children's clothes and shoes -- mostly unclaimed items from several local schools, Dillard said -- were available for those in need to sort through.
Stephanie Lynn O'Kelley brought her entire extended family from Buford to share in the meal.
"I just wanted to come out among strangers and have fellowship," she said, picking through clothes and watching her granddaughter play. "It's just been great and inspiring to see something like this. It's just really humbling."
The church used buses and vans to bring needy families to their campus on Old Peachtree Road from five separate locations across the greater Duluth area -- the Norcross co-op, Discover Mills, a Kroger store on Sugarloaf Parkway, Gwinnett Place Mall and a Big Lots on Buford Highway in Suwanee.
Wherever they came from, they were enjoying the meal. And the church was enjoying helping them out on a day about giving thanks.
"I like meeting new people," 8-year-old church member Zach Julian said while dishing out gravy. "I think (helping people) is basically what I was made to do."