GOSHEN COUNTY – Family and friends gathered with relative strangers at the American Legion Hall in Lingle on Thursday to celebrate a day of giving thanks.
The Harshberger family and a group of volunteers hosted a first-of-its-kind Community Dinner here on Thanksgiving Day, complete with turkey, ham and all the fixings. Much of the food was donated in the days leading up to the meal, with supplies coming from all corners of the county.
The meal was the idea of Julie and Charlie Harshberger. The couple recently downsized, moving to a smaller home, and now lacked the space to host their regular Thanksgiving feast for family. But rather than abandon their traditional task of hosting their 25 or so family members, Julie approached Charlie with the idea of expanding and starting a new tradition.
“A month ago, I asked Charlie what he thought about renting a hall and inviting everybody from the community,” Julie said while finishing last-minute preparations Thursday in the kitchen at the Legion Hall. “Charlie said, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that.’”
It was a hard decision to make, Charlie said. He went back to his Christian faith and the Biblical call to help your neighbor.
“The Bible says we should give,” he said. “This is a way we can give.
“I didn’t have any idea how we were going to do it, though,” Charlie said. “We just jumped in with both feet.”
So, the call went out, and was quickly answered. Food – to the tune of five turkeys, three hams, plus the makings for countless side dishes including five different kinds of pie – started rolling in. The Harshbergers bought an additional three turkeys and more out of their own pockets, turning down any monetary donations from the public.
Preparations started the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Julie said. Casseroles and sides were prepared and readied for the oven, pies were organized and tables and chairs were set up and decorated at the Legion Hall. Then, Thanksgiving morning, the family gathered at the Hall in the pre-dawn hours with friends who’d volunteered to help and the work began in earnest.
“We started the turkeys about 5 a.m.,” Julie said Thursday “I brought every pot and pan from my house.
“We just kept stockpiling supplies, but didn’t really start the cooking until Wednesday,” she said. “We wanted it all fresh, so we really have to do it all at the last minute.”
Julie said 75 people had indicated plans to attend the dinner by Tuesday. But she prepared enough food to feed 100 people, just in case.
“I just hope it all goes smooth as possible,” Julie said, even as the last of the hams and turkeys were being carved Thursday.
From all indications, though, she needn’t have worried. Attendees were pleased with the spread, to say the least.
“I can’t commend the folks enough for doing something like this,” said Bruce Baker of LaMar, Neb., who shared the meal with his former wife and son, Tammi Benson and Douglas Baker of Torrington.
“A lot of folks don’t have any place to go” for the holidays, Baker said. “This way, we get to meet different people and socialize. This is a good deal.”
Charlie Harshberger agreed: “It’s amazing how many people are by themselves for the holidays. This is one way to get people together.”
Success is measured in different ways. But, by whatever metric, the first Community Thanksgiving Dinner was a success, he said.
“No matter how it goes, it’s a success,” Charlie said. “Even if we only had one person, that’s one person we could feed, could put something in their heart and their life.”