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The Sun Chronicle: This year, the community of charity Thanksgiving dinners comes from a distance

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

By Kayla Canne - Sun Chronicle

Photo Credit: Mark Stockwell / The Sun Chronicle

When Jack Campbell thinks of Thanksgiving, he thinks of people gathering as one.

For the past three years, that gathering has expanded beyond his immediate or even extended family to include eclectic strangers at

the annual Thanksgiving dinner he helps put on with the Norfolk Lions at the Norfolk Grange.

The dinner came about after the group recognized a significant gap in charity during the season of giving. While they had long admire

d the work of other community groups who offered takeaway and sit-down Thanksgiving dinners in Norfolk a few days before the holiday, they had a hard time finding one the day of.

“When I think of Thanksgiving, obviously the meal is important,” Campbell said. “There is tradition in what you serve: Turkey, dress

ing, potatoes and stuffing. It’s something we all enjoy as Americans. But what I really see as the main point of the holiday is having a place to sit down and enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner with others.

“This is about providing the social aspect of togetherness for folks who don’t have family here to fill in that gap. There’s something to say for some person who is unable to gather with family or doesn’t have a home, that we can replicate something you were able to do in the past or something you’d like to do in the future.”

But this year, that gathering of community won’t be possible.

At least, not in the same way.

The coronavirus pandemic, amid rising cases, has restricted Thanksgiving dinners even on a personal level, with a statewide mandate prohibiting gatherings larger than 10 people.

For some families, that decision is disappointing, but manageable. While extended families may not be able to gather, Thanksgiving dinners with immediate family can still go on. But what about those with nowhere to go?

State and federal officials have long advised Americans to keep their social circles small and personal to keep the potential spread of the virus known and low. So gathering with strangers this year was out of the question.

The Norfolk Lions and the Norfolk Grange will still put on Thanksgiving, but this year it will be to-go. It’s a strange feeling at conflict with their original mission.

“The most important reason we do it is the biggest thing we’re losing this year,” Campbell, the club’s secretary, said.

But for him, it’s important.

The first year, their event drew a meager crowd of just eight.

Yet, Campbell said once he volunteered that year, he knew he always would. There was something about giving to a person who would otherwise go without that touched him.

His family now helps out, including his son, who in years past would first play in the traditional high school football game on Thanksgiving Day. Immediately after, he’d come down to the Grange, take off his pads, wash his hands and start serving alongside his sisters, Campbell said.

The second year, the club’s guests doubled to 15. And last year, their numbers rose again to about 25. Outreach suggests they’ll get about the same this year, but they hope for more – even if it’s just one or two additional friendly faces.

“It’s not what you think,” Campbell

said. “It’s not just seniors. It’s not just veterans. It’s not just the homeless. We’ve had families with kids. We’ve had folks walk off the street or who don’t live in the area. It’s a wide range of folks.”

And the need this year may be more than ever.

It all comes back to the meaning of Thanksgiving for Campbell.

Although they can’t gather in person, they can gather in spirit.

“For me, this is about still being able to provide the tradition of Thanksgiving,” Campbell said. “For the folks who don’t have someplace else to go, to know they’re not forgotten. I want them to know that we’re still there.

“The apple pie might be messy in a to-go box, and the turkey might not be as hot, but we’re still there. That, to me, is more important than how the turkey tastes – and let me tell you, it tastes good.”

Kayla Canne can be reached at 508-236-0336, or on Twitter at @SCNAttleboro.

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