Thanksgiving dinner came early for approximately 300 people who feasted on turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie Saturday at Our Daily Bread of Bradenton.
The community-driven organization serves meals every day of the year except Thanksgiving, when other churches and groups provide food throughout the county.
"We have a meal the Saturday before (Thanksgiving) and the Saturday after because those organizations bring us the leftovers," said Penny Goethe, kitchen manager. "This is a small kitchen, and to prepare this much food, we start days before. It can be hectic, but it comes together in the end."
Several people were lined up before the meal was first served at 10 a.m. A line snaked around the wall as volunteers served approximately 50 people at a time.
"This is a big help for the homeless -- one meal a day," said John Greene who works at Our Daily Bread. "They appreciate it."
People of all ages took part in conversation as they ate the home-cooked meal, of which most ingredients were donated by local stores and organizations.
"It's wonderful to get cooked food instead of eating out of a can," said a woman named Dottie. "It's not quite how my mom cooked. She always burned something."
Sitting next to Dottie, enjoying his mashed potatoes and green beans, was Wayne who "called my friends to tell them how good it is."
Earl, who eats often at Our Daily Bread, described the dinner as "marvelous."
"They put on a feast," he said, patting his stomach. "I don't know if I'll be able to finish it all. It's wonderful they do this for the people."
Jim enjoyed the meal with his daughters Abigail, 4, and Arianna, 3.
"It's definitely a blessing," Jim said. "It's already cooked. There are no dishes and stuff to take care of."
Tony Crawford took care of cleaning the dishes, washing trays as patrons commented on the delicious meal.
"Our Daily Bread is a place of help for people that are lost, homeless, anybody needing special treatment," Crawford said.
Looking out of the kitchen and into the dining area where she saw familiar and new faces, Goethe said every county should have a similar program.
"To provide a need like this, it gives you a sense of home," Goethe said. "Most of these people had a memorable Thanksgiving somewhere and this is a way to bring that out."
Our Daily Bread of Bradenton, 701 18th Ave. W., is open from 7 a.m. to noon 364 days a year, serving meals from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Its doors will be closed Thursday, but another traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served Saturday. To contact Our Daily Bread of Bradenton, call 941-745-2992.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.