WAGRAM — As many wake up early on Thanksgiving morning to get a head start on preparing a turkey with all the fixings, Delores Alston will sleep until 8 a.m., with preparations to feed hundreds a full holiday meal all but behind her.
The coordinator of the 26th annual community Thanksgiving at Oak Hill Community Center, Alston will have had a good night’s sleep after preparing 17 turkeys and 100 pounds of dressing the in the days before.
A native of Wagram, Alston first left home to attend high school in Oxford. Upon finishing college, she traveled the country with her husband, an Air Force pilot — but only to a point.
“Being a country girl, if he went to Maine or something I didn’t go, I came home,” Alston said. “I don’t like cold weather.”
Up to 500 people have attended her Thanksgiving dinner each year, which is offered free to all. Walking through the community center last week for the 26th year of preparations, Alston envisioned the buffet line and horde of hungry people.
“Turkey, turkey, dressing, gravy, peas, collard greens, and I have turnips and stuff over here,” she said, designating a food for each warming dish.
The tables, seating 110 at a time, were decorated already with tablecloths and Christmas centerpieces.
“The one thing I learned in home economics: if the table isn’t pretty, the food may not be good,” Alston said. “In other words, if you don’t take time to do the tables you probably aren’t spending time on the food.”
Alston cooks everything herself, from home-grown collards to the turkey, also purchasing most of the food in a year of slim donations. And all who attend are sent home with a bag of fruit and candy, thanks indirectly to family tradition.
“My grandmama, you couldn’t leave her house without a bag — she had to give you something,” Alston said.
Of those attending the meal, some 100 are regulars who have come every Thanksgiving for 20 years. But whether they are blood relation, old friend, or just passing through, all are, for one day at least, honorary family members.
“The joy I get is at about 12:15 when all out here is lining up and all there,” Alston motioned toward the parking lot. “Everybody wants me to open the door, and there’s not a person who comes in that I don’t go by and hug. I don’t care who you are or what kind of shoes you’ve got on, you are important.”
Though at 80, Alston is most assuredly “still stepping,” about eight people volunteer to assist in serving and cleanup.
“I have people going around to the older people saying can I bring you something else, can I take this or seat you where you want,” she said. “I don’t want nobody to have to do nothing.”
This year’s community Thanksgiving dinner wil be held from 12-5 p.m. at the community center of Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church on North Turnpike Road.