A season for giving thanks

PHOTOS BY SHELBY WOLFE/Newport News-Times | Above: Roxy Gregg, a 5-year-old girl scout from Toledo, serves a Thanksgiving meal to Fran Pletschet, a Newport resident who has been coming to the Newport 60+ Activity Center for 12 years. “There isn’t a better place to come than the center,” Pletschet said. Below: Kourtney Wagner, a 10-year-old girl scout from Toledo, serves a meal to Winny Payne during the Thanksgiving for Senior Citizens event at the Newport 60+ Activity Center on Sunday, Nov. 18.

NEWPORT –– As members of the Greater Newport Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group rushed around the kitchen preparing traditional Thanksgiving foods, Julia Howell helped a few group members fix several turkeys for the oven.

“I think people will be really excited for the turkey,” said Howell, who works for the Chamber as the marketing coordinator. “We also have all these pies being donated from Chalet, and we’re going to serve pumpkin pies. I think people will really enjoy that, too.”

The Thanksgiving dinner was hosted by the Young Professionals group at the city’s 60+ center, the fifth such year the group held a dinner for local seniors. The Chamber of Commerce took over organizing and hosting the dinner every year after a charitable motorcycle group, ABATE of Oregon, stopped holding the dinner after more than 20 years.

“ABATE held it for many, many years until they were too old to do it, and they passed it on to us,” said Bobbi Price, who also works for the Chamber of Commerce.

The motorcycle group started the Thanksgiving dinner in the mid-1980s, according to those familiar with the events history, and it was originally held at a local church.

“Then this building got built and they did it for 26 years,” said the Newport 60+ Activity Center supervisor Peggy O’Callaghan. “It’s truly amazing. It’s really historical.”

The group usually serves more than 250 seniors in the Newport community by hosting the traditional Thanksgiving dinner every year, and as of Saturday afternoon, the group had 225 seniors sign up for the dinner. Volunteers from the community help serve the food.

“Many hands make quick work,” Price said. “It’s a really feel-good way to give back to the community.”

For the dinner, the Young Professionals group cooks 20 turkeys, carves them and gets them ready for service the day after cooking. The day of the dinner, the group does a Meals on Wheels service in the morning, all delivered by volunteers. At noon, they did their first seating and a second seating is held at 2 p.m.

According to Price, local girl scouts serve the dinner to the seniors in attendance and perform during dinner.

“They sing some songs and Christmas carols and stuff,” Price said.

According to O’Callaghan, the original motorcycle group started the dinner because many local seniors didn’t have family and friends around to share Thanksgiving dinner.

“Oftentimes, people are busy with their own families and holidays, so they thought if they did it the week before, they could still have an opportunity to visit with their family,” she said. “So it was an excellent opportunity because seniors got this home-cooked meal.”

With upwards of 200 seniors expected the following day, Price looked forward to involving so many in the community in the holiday event.

“It really highlights the volunteerism in the community with the girl scouts and with the young professionals and seniors,” Price said. “It’s a really great combination of people coming together, so that’s the highlight for me, to see that.”

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