The turkeys were carved, potatoes mashed and pies sliced as Vickie Thompson, Mickey Peabody and their crew of close to 200 volunteers once again hosted the Annual Spirit of Oakdale Thanksgiving dinner. The 24th annual event was staged this past Thursday – Thanksgiving Day – and was open to all.
“We served over 900 meals. It’s been averaging about that for the past few years,” Thompson said of meals served at the Gene Bianchi Community Center on Thanksgiving. Close to 150 meals were also delivered by the Police Department CAPS volunteers to those unable to leave their homes for the community offering.
This year, however, was slightly different for community dinner founders Thompson and Peabody. Now, with 24 years of service to their apron strings, the duo has decided 2018, the 25th anniversary year, will be their last at the helm.
“We’re putting it out in the universe, if any service group would like to take it over after next year, we will gladly turn it over,” Thompson stated. “Year 25 and then we’re done.”
It’s a decision which Thompson herself has openly shared struggling with the past four and a half years, first entertaining the notion prior to the 20th anniversary. Now, the volunteers believe it’s the right time.
Feeling a connection and responsibility to help the annual event continue, Thompson noted making the intention public now, offers plenty of time for transition to another group. Thompson and her team give many hours prior to Thanksgiving Day to do the shopping, preparing and orchestrating a freshly cooked meal free of charge for members of the community.
“We couldn’t do this without our volunteers,” Thompson said, choking back emotion. “I really want to thank them for being so dedicated. I want them to know just how much they mean to me … every single one ... and acknowledge how hard they work each year.”
The community dinner organizer shared the commitment each year has become hard on some volunteers as they juggle family commitment with community calling. A task which is not only tiring, but demanding – and yet, they don’t complain.
“The best part of the day is the camaraderie with everybody,” Thompson noted of the quality volunteer team. “It is a community event. I’m pushing for a service group, but anybody that wants it can take over. I’ll gladly help them with the transition.”
The dining line began assembling outside of the community center at 7:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, though the meal wasn’t due to be served for several hours. A total of 89 turkeys were prepared for service, 15 whole cooked turkeys were donated to Modesto Gospel Mission. Three hundred pounds of potatoes were peeled the night before, boiled and mashed for service and 250 pounds of sweet potatoes were prepared.
“This is the first year we ran out of stuffing,” Thompson noted.
Bags of groceries were also distributed to families in need and toys were given to all children in attendance.
On Thursday, with volunteers there to handle everything from helping out at the craft tables to doing the dishes, things ran like a well-oiled machine.
The trio of Pat Woods, Brian O’Bannon and Dave Steeley were ready, aprons on and looking forward to helping out. Woods and Steeley listed themselves as dishwashers, while O’Bannon said his title was “gravy guy.”
Elsewhere, longtime potato experts Eric Partenheimer and Larry Parshall were mashing and scooping, with Vivian Thompson and Robin Cadmus helping out with the seasoning of the huge vats of spuds.
As diners waited in line outside the Bianchi Community Center, the smells of the traditional turkey dinner wafted out. Once the doors were open, children entering with their parents first made a stop at the toy table, with volunteers handing out age-appropriate gifts for the youngsters, all part of the community effort.
“I heard about this last year, it’s a wonderful way to meet people and help out,” said Jenny Bonner of Lubbock, Texas, in Oakdale for a Thanksgiving visit with her daughter, Kristen.
Mayor Pat Paul, who was working the food line with Jonell Hassapakis and Mike Tozzi said she has been dishing up the turkey dinner since the beginning.
“What’s fascinating to me is that it’s such an eclectic group,” she noted of the volunteers. “It’s phenomenal, we all just come together.”
“I love the people, I love seeing them,” added Hassapakis.
This year, Tozzi was able to load up diner’s plates with turkey.
“It’s just something I’ve done every year,” he said. “I think it’s great, the community comes together and makes people happy.”
For persons interested in learning more about the Spirit of Oakdale Thanksgiving Dinner contact Vickie Thompson (209) 606-3893 or Mickey Peabody (209) 471-9859.
Leader Editor Marg Jackson contributed to this article.