Volunteers serve up warmth and comfort at Rogersville's free Thanksgiving dinner

Jeff Bobo • Nov 28, 2019 at 5:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Hundreds of volunteers came together Thursday in Rogersville to help send a little bit of warmth and comfort to thousands of people in the form of good hot food.

Joseph Rogers Primary School and the People Loving People (PLP) organization hosted their 16th annual free Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday morning. 

Event chairman and co-founder Dr. Blaine Jones estimated that more than 350 people volunteered over two days to cook, pack, deliver and serve a complete Thanksgiving dinner to more than 3,500 people

Some volunteers were rookies, and some were grizzled veterans. But they all had one thing in common Thursday — the good feeling that comes from serving their fellow man. 

“The good Lord has blessed us”

PLP obliterated its record for Thanksgiving meals served with 3,901, topping last year’s record mark of 3,597. Volunteers made a total of 3,462 deliveries, another record, and served 274 people in the cafeteria, which was up five from last year. There were also 65 pick-up orders.

There were also 304 on-sight volunteers, as well as another 100 who brought bread and desserts.

“It's just good to know some people are going to eat a good hot Thanksgiving dinner,” Jones told the Times News. “It's good to have all this help with us. The people come together and the community come together and make it happen.”

Jones added, “I just appreciate everybody pitching in and making this happen. It's been a wild couple of days but we've made it through and the good Lord has blessed us.”

Three days of preparations

Preparations began on Tuesday as soon as school dismissed at JRP and the students were gone. The Sullivan Baptist Disaster Relief Kitchen set up its outdoor kitchen with a dozen ovens and several different types of cookers, and then on Wednesday volunteer cooks convened at the school at about 10 a.m.

Desserts came in Wednesday morning as well, along with breads for the dressing, and crews began cooking turkeys and hams. By about 9 p.m. on Wednesday, most of the meal was cooked.

A different group of volunteers arrived at JRP at about 1 a.m. to make the dressing, rolls and gravy, and at 7 a.m. Thursday a new brigade of volunteers arrived to begin packing meals to be delivered.

Meanwhile, beginning at 10 a.m. on Thursday, a steady stream of delivery volunteers pulled in at JRP, loaded their vehicles with boxes and departed for their assigned destinations.

“Sheriff Lawson let us borrow some (jail) trustees through the night and early morning, and they had the lines set up, so all we had to do was come out, open it up and start packing them and serving them,” Jones said.

Is there a Thanksgiving badge?

Rogersville Boy Scout Troop 199 leader Amanda Burton brought five volunteers from her troop on Thursday morning to help pack meals for deliveries.

This was the fifth consecutive year that Burton and her Scouts have volunteered for the PLP free Thanksgiving dinner.

“We always like giving back to our community, and this is one of the big ones,” Burton said. “I like to get the boys up and make them work for it. We get here at 6:30 a.m. Actually, they enjoy it. They get here before me sometimes.”

Burton added, “If you've never done it before you should really come and try it. It's a week's worth of volunteer activity, and it's really awesome to watch people come through, and see the joy on their faces is just amazing.”

The selfish head chef

Head chef Russ Williamson has volunteered for the free Thanksgiving dinner for the past 15 years, and the only reason he missed the first year is he didn't live in Rogersville yet.

He and the other volunteers cooked 1,000 pounds of turkey, 700 pounds of ham, about 700 pounds of stuffing, 400 pounds of green beans, 400 pounds of corn, 600 pounds of mashed potatoes, 300 pounds of cranberry sauce, 20 gallons of gravy, and 3,500 rolls and desserts.

Leftovers were distributed to food banks, homeless shelters, etc. No food is left unused.

Williamson admitted that his motive for volunteering is selfish. He likes the way it makes him feel.

“It's a challenge to me because I'm up a couple of days straight,” Williamson said. “It's a challenge to get everything organized. When there's a crisis I know they're going to call me and if I get it working, people get fed, and people are happy, and the volunteers too. We've got to be doing something right because the same volunteers keep coming back year after year.”

A big fan of ham

Although most meals prepared by PLP volunteers are delivered, a few hundred attend in person every year to eat at the JRP cafeteria and be pampered by volunteers. In fact, there were enough volunteers for each guest to have their own personal volunteer servant.

Georgia Shropshire, 80, of Mooresburg, has been attending the PLP free Thanksgiving dinner for the past decade. She originally came with her husband of 50 years, but sadly, he passed away a few years ago.

Shropshire told the Times News she enjoys attending the PLP event because she enjoys the company and the good food. Especially the ham.

Not a big fan of turkey, however.

“They say if you eat it you get sleepy,” she said.

A PLP Thanksgiving rookie

This was the first PLP free Thanksgiving event for new volunteers Steve and Linda Strong of Church Hill. He estimated that he helped pack more than 700 food trays Thursday morning, and he appreciated the opportunity to have a positive impact on so many lives for one day.

“Awesome experience,” said Steve Strong. “I would encourage anyone and everyone to help out. I enjoy helping other people and this community. Being a veteran, I've never experienced so much warmth in the Tri-Cities area. What I liked about it is meeting new people and knowing that we're making a difference. Helping others who could not be here, who are shut in or having hard times, we can help a little bit.”