HOLLAND, Mich. – Wednesday is one of the biggest travel days of the year as families gather for Thanksgiving. But for several months now, West Michigan communities have rallied to make it a special holiday for everyone: especially for those unable to be with loved ones or put a meal together.
For more than 20 years, the Holland Rescue Mission hosts their annual Thanksgiving meal, now held at the Hope College DeVos Fieldhouse. The doors opened at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, but the lines wrapped the building starting since noon.
Brenda Cambron was the first person in line Wednesday, for her third year enjoying this special meal.
“It just makes me feel good, makes me feel like I’m royalty here you know you get served hot food and they sing for us, it’s just wonderful: once a year I’m looking forward to this,” said Cambron.
It’s a Thanksgiving meal Cambron told FOX 17 she looks forward to all year; a meal she shares with up to 1,500 people.
“I just want to see a lot of smiles and conversations going on tonight,” said Anna Southwell, Holland Rescue Mission volunteer and event coordinator.
Southwell said she’s planned this event since July, and started taking volunteers’ phone calls to sign up in September. Wednesday afternoon the Fieldhouse was quiet: tables were set for 1,500, and the big screen was tuned into Thanksgiving.
More than 500 volunteers organized the event and gave donations: including more than 500 turkeys and all of the household and hygiene items that went into 500 care packages. Care packages and casseroles were ready for each family to take home.
“I think people just like getting together with the community, and enjoying a Thanksgiving meal together,” said Southwell.
Five hours before the doors opened, a handful of people laughed in line, sharing their thanks.
“I’m all by myself, Christmas I’m going to spend by myself too, and that’s why I thank the Lord that these people will open their doors for us,” said Cambron.
Returning guests like Cambron waited alongside first-timers like Onetta Woods; each saying they're thankful to connect with others.
“We’re so thankful beyond the fact that it’s Thanksgiving, we’re just thankful they care about a lot of people,” said Woods.
Then closer to show-time, chefs prepared the finishing touches: including the 50-gallon gravy train. Some chefs are even previous Holland Rescue Mission residents themselves, who are now cooking for Thanksgiving dinner for others.
Back at the Fieldhouse, Southwell opened one of the 500 care packages, showing FOX 17 each is filled with about 20 products, from paper towels to toothbrushes, and handwritten cards to families.
Taking a step back and looking at the planning that goes into the event, it’s clear the meals will keep these families warm long after it’s served.
“Happy Thanksgiving to you,” said Woods.