Elks Club volunteers share Thanksgiving joy

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star From right, volunteers Alison Koprowski, Janet Hurley Quackenbush and Sara Eggers serve Oneonta resident Linda Wheeler, left, at the annual community Thanksgiving dinner at the Oneonta Elks Club on Thursday.

ONEONTA — More than 100 volunteers served 600 meals Thursday at the annual community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Elks Club.

“It’s unbelievable to me how a community comes forward to volunteer, no questions asked, for those who don’t have a meal,” said John Korb, an Oneonta resident who has spearheaded the dinner with his wife, Cindy, for the past four years.

“People don’t have a meal alone here,” he said. “Sometimes they come just to be with people and know somebody cares. This is what’s great about Oneonta — that caring feeling that comes out.”

Deb Bruce, who coordinated meal deliveries, said far more were sent home than expected. A fleet of volunteers delivered 250 meals within a 15-mile radius, and 100 more were sent as take-out, she said.

Drivers also picked up about 20 area residents who could not otherwise find a ride.

“It’s a great community event,” she said. “We made their day.”

“We always have tons of volunteers and tons of food,” Bruce said. Leftovers are donated to the Lord’s Table, the community feeding program sponsored by St. Mary’s, “so nothing gets wasted.”

“We have a lot of longtime volunteers,” Bruce said, noting that some families have made it a tradition to help serve the meal. “We fed 600 people today, and we couldn’t have done it without a ton of help.”

Volunteers were coordinated by St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, and the meal was made possible by donations from Annutto’s Farm Stand, A. O. Fox Hospital, Chobani, KFC, Hannaford and Price Chopper, Bruce said. The New York Conservation Association donated 15 20-pound turkeys.

Mary Ann Hartmann, a St. Mary’s parishioner who helped organize the meal for 15 years, said the Oneonta community tradition began in the 1950s at The Rex, a restaurant formerly located on Market Street.

Rose Oliver, the establishment’s owner, would close the restaurant to the public on Thanksgiving Day and serve a meal to many of the railroad workers in town, some of whom could not be with their families for the holiday, according to Hartmann.

“The whole concept of giving on Thanksgiving happened so long ago, and we inherited it,” she said.

Several years after the tradition was established, Oliver passed the torch to St. Mary’s, Hartmann said, whose members have organized the meal ever since.

“In Oneonta, every single day of the week you can get a meal,” Hartmann said, between the community feeding programs sponsored by multiple churches and the Salvation Army. “It’s a representation of this generous community that is able to provide to the families as an outpouring of generosity, hospitality, love, gospel values — however you see it.”

“It’s all about community,” Korb said. “In all the divisiveness, it doesn’t matter what faith you come from or what your views are. We’re here for the common good, and that’s what this is all about.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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