And just like that, the era has ended.
The mood at the Gene Bianchi Community Center was anything but melancholy on Thanksgiving Day. Volunteers once again gathered and served up the 25th annual Spirit of Oakdale Community Dinner, just as they had for the 24 years preceding.
Much was the same.
The tables arranged as they have been for years. The volunteers at the ready to serve and the kitchen staff humming along like a well-oiled machine – dishes in, food out.
This year, however, one would find a smattering of yellow vested gentlemen sprinkled throughout the controlled chaos. This year, the Oakdale Lions Club was in attendance as it prepares to carry the torch forward for the 26th annual event in 2019.
“I wish them luck and am grateful these boys have stepped forward,” co-founder Vickie Thompson said.
Thompson, along with co-founder Mickey Peabody, announced last year that the silver anniversary event would be their final year at the helm of the annual community dinner.
Thompson shared it takes a crew of a couple hundred volunteers to pull the event off each year. A fact which 25 years later, still brings a wide grin to her face, as she reflects on the camaraderie and commitment of all who make the event possible.
On average the event feeds approximately 1,000 people. This year she shared numbers were down and estimates that they served between 750 to 800 people.
Left over perishable goods were picked up by Modesto Gospel Mission. Remaining canned goods and non-perishables were donated to Oakdale Community Sharing.
“This was probably one of the least stressful Thanksgivings for me,” the veteran said. “Everybody just sort of came into place. Everything just came together.”
According to Thompson, Oakdale Lions were all in, with members on hand both Wednesday for prepping and Thursday for serving and everything else.
“They obviously realize how much work it is,” the co-founder said of the undertaking. “It takes a village. I was encouraged by their turnout to help. I think they’ll be able to do it, just fine.”
The mood which filled the Community Center and the kitchen, however, was notably different from previous years. The laughs seemed a bit louder, smiles a bit brighter and unity tighter than ever before.
“There was a lightness,” Thompson agreed of the observation, “because we have all given for a long time and we went out with a bang. It was a great time.”
Now with her final meal served as the chief in charge, Thompson shared the event will always hold a special piece of her heart. The selflessness of giving to the community, memorable, yet it is the camaraderie of the volunteers who give up their family time each year which surpasses all else for Thompson.
“The best time for me seems to be when it’s all over,” she said. “When the guys pull up with their trucks to deliver the stuff to my home and we sit around for an hour or two having a beer and sharing stories about the day. That’s the stuff I enjoy the most – the camaraderie of all of it.”