Some people attending the free Thanksgiving dinner served at the American Legion Hall in Hannibal, Mo., said if not for this turkey dinner being provided, they would be eating alone on the holiday.
Although she was with a group, Dorothy Claggett - who is well-known for her performances with the Hannibal Community Theater - said "it's a wonderful service to the community, especially for people who have no family anymore."
This is one of the reasons Jess Ornelas of the American Legion enjoys providing this annual dinner, and this year everything went so smoothly that 325 meals had been delivered by 11:30 a.m., shortly after the dinners began being served in the dining room.
"This is the fastest we have ever delivered," he said. His wife, Victoria, was in charge of deliveries, and she had the 21 volunteer drivers choose their routes, taking parts of town with which they were familiar.
An equal number of dinners were served in the dining room, Jess Ornelas said, for a total of nearly 700. He was especially pleased with the large number of families involved in serving and delivering, and said at one point all the people on the serving line were young people. "And we had a lot of kids, even little ones, helping decorate the room," he said.
Among the teens who had helped all day was Taylor Bramblett, a ninth-grader. She and her mom, Becky, had delivered meals to seven residents of the Mark Twain Hotel, Taylor said, as she dished up mashed potatoes and gravy in the American Legion dining room.
Ornelas was in charge of preparing the turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy, noodles, green beans, sweet potatoes, rolls and desserts. Most of the food was donated, he said, with both companies and individuals contributing.
He added he is trying to live up to the example set by the late Ray Ball. "I do a lot of stuff because of him and his memory."
Some people helped deliver and serve the meal, then shared it with family members, such as Nancy Maddox, who declared turkey was the best thing on the menu. She was eating with her brother, Jim Grisham and his wife, Barb, of Hannibal. Jim said he enjoyed all the food, adding "I'm so full I couldn't eat any pie."
Among the veterans helping was Van Sorrels, accompanied by his 15-year-old granddaughter, Maiya Sorrels. Sorrels was in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1970.
"I tried to go to Vietnam at the end of my first enlistment, but I got a medical discharge instead," Sorrels said, adding he had lots of friends who served in Vietnam, and "some didn't come back."
Two Vietnam veterans sharing dinner after helping were Jim Barnes of Hannibal and Wayne Gottman of Palmyra, Mo. Barnes has been an American Legion member for 27 years and would like to see more young veterans join.
Page 2 of 2 - "It is veterans helping other veterans," Barnes said. Anyone interested in learning more is invited to contact American Legion Post 55 on Highway MM, where "there is no pressure to join."
As they ate dinner, Korean veteran Jim Brown and his wife of 60 years, Norma Jean, of Center, Mo., explained they have lived in the same house on Route H in Center since moving there in 1957. He has become recognized by strangers after the Courier-Post published an article about a replica of an old gas station he had opened to the public next door to their home.
Some families had come great distances to share Thanksgiving with local members. Jean Hughes, whose late husband, Harry, had been manager of the Penney store in Hannibal, introduced her son Mark and his family (wife Shaylene, Rebecca, 15, and Isaiah, 5) from Kansas City, Mo.
They had a busy weekend planned, including time with Jean's daughter and son-in-law, Dr. Steve and Beth Sankpill, and son, Hugh, of Hannibal; and daughter and son-in-law, Lee Anne and Jason Spurlin and baby, Ari, of Cleveland, Ohio.