AIKEN — With an abundant feast and endless banquet table, all were welcome to dine at a Thanksgiving meal with no reserved seating policy.
Old and young, rich and poor filled their plates with turkey and the fixings at the seventh annual One Table event in downtown Aiken. A host of volunteers from area churches served free lunches to an estimated 2,800 people Thursday.
Helen Boyce, of New Ellenton, came with her husband and two sons but ate her meal with newfound friends during an event where many say strangers became family for a day.
“We gather here together not just for the food, but for the fellowship,” she said.
Standing in the buffet line that snaked down Newberry Street Southwest and up the sidewalks, Boyce enjoyed chatting with people on what would have otherwise been a quiet Thanksgiving for her.
Table after table stretched down The Alley behind Aiken’s Municipal Building. Retirees, families and low-income individuals ate their fill of green beans, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and pumpkin pie.
“The most special thing is it gives people who don’t have family or are recently widowed, it gives them a place to serve or eat with somebody so they don’t have to eat alone,” said Kathryn Wade, an event organizer and a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Aiken.
Working alongside neighbors and friends to serve others is important to Wade on Thanksgiving.
“We’ve tried to make this a communitywide event where everyone is invited, everyone is welcome,” she said.
Retired Aiken police officers and firefighters cooked 152 turkeys beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Churches helped prepare casseroles and side dishes. Monetary donations weren’t requested from attendees, but those who could slipped bills into organizers’ hands. Others brought canned food donations for Golden Harvest Food Bank.
Michelle Johnson, of Aiken, had 14 family members to feed for Thanksgiving. With a tight income, One Table helped her provide the traditional meal, which can be costly.
“Thank God I see another day with my grandchildren and my sons and daughters,” Johnson said.