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'All Are Welcome' at W.Va. dinner

November 27, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Settled down to yet another Thanksgiving meal at his home in November 1999, Leonard Harris had a vision.

In his head danced steaming plates piled high with juicy slices of turkey; mounds of dressing; mashed potatoes, both russet and sweet, topped with gravy oozing down the sides and swirling with a careful line of green beans, sauerkraut and cranberry sauce.

Around him, laughter floated from tables surrounded by smiling faces of every color as they tucked into the meal.

In his vision, a woman leaned over a nearby table to ask if anyone needed a refill while a child walked past, balancing a tray of homemade desserts.

"This is pretty much what I envisioned," Leonard Harris said as he sat in the St. Joseph Parish School on Thursday for the ninth annual "All Are Welcome" community Thanksgiving dinner.

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An estimated 1,200 guests and 150 volunteers filled the school in Martinsburg Thursday to share in the dinner.

Until Harris and his wife, Helen, approached St. Joseph Catholic Church about opening its hearts and doors to the community on Thanksgiving, there was nowhere for people to go, he said.

"I started thinking about the people who maybe didn't have a good meal, who didn't have somewhere to go and socialize," he said. "I always thought that Thanksgiving Day should be for the people."

Now that most of her family has moved or passed away, Patti Rice of Hagers-town comes to St. Joe's for the annual meal.

"It's very sad on holidays not to be able to be with your family, and no one wants to cook Thanksgiving just for themselves," she said. "I look forward to this all year."

Not only is the day enjoyable for the guests, Angie Davis of Glengary, W.Va., said it is truly a blessing to volunteer.

"You know, sometimes you get gloomy at the holidays and I just wanted to do something like this to make me feel more appreciated," she said.

In addition to serving meals in the cafeteria, Leonard Harris personally delivered meals to individuals in the community unable to travel for a meal.

He also delivered to area military and police professionals.

While dinner is served from noon to 4 p.m., the joy of the day does not stop when dinner is over, Helen Harris said.

The leftovers will be delivered to shelters and nonprofit organizations which provide food to those in need.

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