On Thanksgiving Day, several hundred people passed through the doors of the Oak Hill Community Center as if it were the home of their mother or grandmother.
Each diner was soon greeted with a hug and told to “go in there and eat all you want,” by Wagram’s Delores Alston, who has proved to be the incarnate spirit of Thanksgiving for the 25th year running.
“They do this every year and it feels like home to me,” said Sharon Struther of Wagram, who attended with her sister, friend, and niece and nephews. “The food is delicious.”
Alston offered a free meal of all-you-can-eat turkey, ham, collards, okra, stuffing, beans, mustard greens, and dessert from noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday. By 2:30, some 350 people had passed through, with a few groups of deer hunters taking the head of the line at noon.
“This is a usual thing for us, we usually come out here and spend the day,” said Marcus Hunt of Lumberton. “I’ve been coming here probably about four years now, but some of the older guys, my hunting buddies have been coming for a long time.”
Although the food was cooked entirely by Alston and her mother Malinda Gibson, Alston enlisted the help of several volunteers in serving.
“Mrs. Alston has been serving the community for a long time and she inspired me to come do my part,” said Wane McNair of Rougemont, serving guests with wife Judy. “Being from here and going to school here, I continue to see the love in this community. We see the value in sharing, giving thanks, and paying it forward.”
Many who came took plates home for family members who had to work on the holiday. Others joined in the holiday camaraderie because they lacked the option of spending Thanksgiving with family.
“Mrs. Alston took care of my mother for five years before she died and my whole family just came to love her,” said Peggy Goodwin of Laurel Hill, who spent the duration of the meal serving. “One year she asked me if I would help. I’ve been doing it ever since because it just feels good to be around people. If I didn’t, I’d be sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, so I come and I enjoy everybody.”
The hundreds of guests who passed through the line for a helping of turkey and stuffing found more of an extended family than they knew they had.
“This is about my sixth or seventh year here, I like a home-cooked meal,” said Hayward McNeil of Laurinburg. “I could go buy one, but this one has love behind it. It’s like home, going to see grandma. It brings back old times.”