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Hundreds Enjoy Community Thanksgiving
With a new location, a larger facility, and more area in which to set up tables, the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner in Escalon went off well this year.

Organizers said it appeared that the turnout may have been a little smaller than last year, but the increase in take out orders and the home delivered meals took up the slack, with the community effort reaching at least the same amount of people as the 2006 event. And in many cases, those that came to dine in were also able to take home a second dinner to enjoy on Friday.

Diners and volunteers alike joined in the feeling of community at the dinner, served up this year at the Escalon Covenant Church due to ongoing renovations at the nearby Community Center, where the dinner has been held for the last few years.

Among those working on the deliveries was Carol Stober.

"We usually go to Turlock to the Salvation Army and work there but they weren't doing it this year," she explained. "This is totally different, we didn't do any 'to-go's' in Turlock.

"We don't really have family very close so we usually do Thanksgiving on another day and it seems like a good day to help others."

The whole Stober family, mom Carol, dad Robert and kids Mikey, 14, and Alex, 13, were there to help out.

Many of the home delivered meals didn't have far to go to reach their destination; as many were taken across the street to the Heritage House senior housing complex. From 'gravy on the side' to 'white meat only,' special orders were filled and the hot meals delivered with a smile.

Dee Anna Jackson coordinated the home delivered meals, working with a crew of volunteer drivers to take the holiday meals to their destination. Several people also came by to pick up their 'take out' orders and crews in the kitchen were kept busy filling both those 'to go' orders and serving up plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, salad and rolls for the diners inside the church.

Mom Selicia Lima and her three daughters, Ashley, 13, Brittaney, 11 and Sidney, 7, were hard at work as well, the girls taking food orders and delivering the plates of food to those dining in, also making sure diners had beverages and got to top off the meal with a piece of pie.

"They were excited about it this morning," Lima said of her daughters coming to volunteer for the first time.

Diners were universal in their praise for the meal, cooked under the direction of local caterer Tommy Joyce.

"It was excellent, everything was excellent," said Geri Harper, sister-in-law of local resident Jim Harper, who was dining in before taking a turn serving at the pie table. "It was a five-star meal."

"Excellent food, we really enjoy it," added Wayne Engel, who was attending with his wife Shirley, their daughter Carrie Johnen and son-in-law Steve Johnen from Plymouth.

"It beats cooking turkey all day," Shirley said with a smile.

Joyce said there were 16 turkeys cooked for the meal, with over 300 pounds of mashed potatoes, six trays of stuffing and more. There was more than enough to go around, with some people even getting second helpings of some items before leaving the church.

"It went really good," coordinator Bev Arnold said. "There were a lot more takeouts and not as many people eating in but we got hit fast, though, they were here before 11 a.m."

There were an estimated 200 take out and home delivery orders, with dining room numbers down slightly. But Arnold said the effort, sponsored each year by the Escalon Ministerial Association, meets a need and she is glad to see the people come to eat and take food home with them.

Volunteer worker Allison Jackson, 11, was in her third year of working at the dinner.

"I like serving the food," she said, "because it's fun and I like helping people."

For many, it was a family affair, with parents and children alike working to serve the dinner or deliver the meals to the area's elderly and shut ins.

Such was the case with the DeVecchio family, dad Ken, mom Jane and daughters, seven-year-old Rachel and nine-year-old Mia.

"I'm at a loss for words," Ken DeVecchio admitted when asked what he got out of the day, noting that it was an overwhelming feeling to be part of the community event. "The people and then the food, that's the best part. We just wanted to serve."