LIMA — It was an afternoon of food and fellowship on Thursday as more than 3,000 individuals from all walks of life celebrated the 12th annual Lewis Family McDonald’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner.
Held at the Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in downtown Lima, the event brought the community together to enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pumpkin pie. An estimated 800 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of mashed potatoes, 540 pounds of stuffing and 300 pounds of gravy were served throughout the day.
Event organizer Jerry Lewis, who owns several McDonald’s franchises in northwest Ohio, called the annual event “one of the best days of my life.”
“It’s amazing to be able to break bread with over 3,000 people and get to share the day with them,” Lewis said. “It’s a wonderful day with a great meal, great music and great fellowship.”
The free dinner ran for three hours, and was open to all members of the public. Lewis said one of the best aspects of the event is that it brings together an entire community of people.
“We have doctors that are on-call, we have emergency squads like fire and police departments, we have the homeless, and we have people who don’t have family in the area that need a place to go,” he said. “The common denominator is they are looking for people to spend the day with.”
Lima resident Dan Sims and his son, Roman, said they’ve come to the event for the last three or four years. The father and son said they have no other family members in the area, so they enjoy sharing the holiday with fellow community members.
“That’s why we come here — the food is fantastic and we like to see all the people,” Dan Sims said. “It’s really a great event.”
“I like the food, the atmosphere and seeing all the happy people,” Roman Sims added. “I just appreciate Jerry Lewis doing this for us.”
In addition to a free Thanksgiving meal, guests were able to take home bags of groceries, clothing and personal hygiene items. The clothing was provided by Only Believe Ministries of Botkins, and the groceries were collected through a partnership among Save-A-Lot Food Stores, Childers Media Group and local Boy Scout troops.
Lewis said the fact that hundreds of volunteers and organizations take time out of their Thanksgiving holiday to help others is a testament to the giving spirit of the local community.
“It just shows how wonderful Allen County and the northwest Ohio community is,” he said. “The volunteerism here is just unbelievable.”
One of the volunteers at this year’s Thanksgiving Day Dinner was Janice Johnston, a Bluffton resident who has been helping with the event for the last six years.
“I think whenever you have the resources, you should help other people.” Johnston said. “Knowing that people appreciate it — it makes your day special also.
“It’s just a happy time for everybody.”
Though the atmosphere inside the Civic Center was upbeat and congenial, Lewis said the event serves as an important reminder that many local families feel a void on Thanksgiving. Lewis views the dinner as a way to fill that void.
“There’s definitely a need in the area, and people are counting on us,” he said. “I think it’s our job and our responsibility to be there for them on this special day of the year.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima.