PARKERSBURG - About 800 residents in Wood County were served meals by the Salvation Army of Parkersburg Corps Thursday during the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner.
"This year has been amazing," said Lt. Mechelle Henry, pastor and commanding officer of the organization. "Everything about today has been beyond what was expected."
The number of meals served this year was about 200 more than last year.
Food went so quickly Thursday afternoon, the corps was forced to shut down the eat-in portion in the gymnasium at 534 Fifth St. at around 1 p.m., an hour early.
"There just was very little left by 12:30 p.m.," Henry said. "It was surprising."
Of those meals served, more than 400 were delivered to those unable to leave their homes. The rest of the meals were served to residents who sought the warmly prepared traditional meal and companionship provided at the Salvation Army.
"I have spent every Thanksgiving for the last 16 years volunteering here and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," said Marc D. Srogi with the Vienna Fire Department. "It is a very humbling experience to serve others and it makes me more grateful for what I have."
Henry said the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner would not happen without the 225 volunteers who gave their time and often money to the program.
"They do everything for this," Henry said. "Not only is the food cooked by volunteers, but they get the gymnasium ready, serve the meals here and deliver the meals to the shut-ins who called and requested food.
"Really, without the volunteers, this dinner could not happen," she said.
Volunteers began cooking the turkey earlier in the week and began preparing the dinners around 7:30 a.m. Thursday while others showed up around 8 a.m. to do more, said Henry. Like every year, there are old-hats who give their Thanksgiving Day to the event each year as well as first-timers who want to find a way to give back to the community.
"I volunteered at the dinner once before to help prepare meals while I was in high school and always wanted to do it again," said Miss West Virginia USA 2014 Charisse Haislop. "I decided that since I was home for Thanksgiving, I should spend some time helping others and I brought my sister, too."
Alexia Haislop, a student at Parkersburg High School, said it is her first year and she does not expect it to be her last.
"I didn't believe Charisse when she told me how great it was, but she was right," Alexia Haislop said. "Everybody is really nice and seems so appreciative of the meal.
"It's great to see people happy and smiling," she said.
Both Haislop girls said they expect this to be the first of many years for them to volunteer for the Salvation Army's Thanksgiving meal.
"It's unfortunate, to me, that there are families that don't have the luxury to spend this day together and have a nice meal," Charisse Haislop said. "If I can somehow help one person not feel lonely today, I feel I made a difference."
Along with the meal, volunteers put together more than 900 gift packages, including handmade quilts and blankets, to be distributed to area nursing homes.
"Today is a day I always use to give back," said Charlotte Nestor, who has helped with the dinner for nine years. "I feel it is my calling to help others and by doing this you get to meet great people."