MANATEE -- Thanksgiving Day is a time for counting blessings, enjoying friends and family, and -- feasting.
The holiday dawned clear and bright Thursday, perfect for a crowd of nearly 500 who dined under tents at the First United Methodist Church in Bradenton.
On the menu: roast pork, black beans and rice, green beans, breads, and pumpkin pies.
Guests came from all sorts of places.
Some Rev. Tom McCloskey knew because they live on the streets downtown; others he met for the first time.
“People just come, we don’t know where they come from,” said McCloskey.
Kevin McMahon, 49, who is unemployed and Kevin McMahon, 49, who is unemployed and lives at the Salvation Army in Bradenton, was among the crowd at the 603 11th St. W. church.“I’m hoping to get on my feet again,” McMahon said, more than once.
He was looking forward to an upcoming interview at Macy’s for a holiday job, but lamented: “Macy’s is a shirt-and-tie sort of place,” and his wardrobe, he said, is more in the T-shirt category.
But his sister had promised to help so he is hoping his moment to shine will come.
“The help is there, you’ve just got to get out and look for it,” he said.
At another table was a trio of high-spirited diners: Brittany, 17; Danialla, 15, and Gerlene Ferguson, 53, all of Bradenton.
“We’ve come to enjoy the wonderful fellowship,” said Gerlene Ferguson. “I’ve got my turkey in the oven, but for now, I’m fellow-shipping with others.”
The Salvation Army Thursday served a record 724 meals, several hundred more than last year, said Jim McKee, food services manager.
“We’re seeing more families and people doubling up in homes,” explained Maj. Bob Parker, area coordinator and corps officer. The demand also may result from workers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, he added.
Still, the charitable organization was thankful for its many volunteers and benefactors, who donated enough turkeys and money to produce both a Thanksgiving feast and the makings for an excellent Christmas Day meal as well, Parker said.
Also celebrating Thanksgiving was a group of 25 students who remained at the New College of Florida campus over the holiday weekend.
They were unable to make a pilgrimage home to far-off states like Massachusetts and Kansas, so they organized a feast to feel more a part of the holiday.
Resident assistant and meal organizer Delaney Anderson, 20, of West Palm Beach, began cooking a turkey at noon in a residence hall that actually had a full kitchen.
“We were kind of hesitant -- I’m not a cook -- but I have some great help,” she said. “We were concerned to see if everything was going to turn out OK.”
Apparently the menu of turkey, tofurkey, vegan mashed potatoes, candied yams, green beans, salad, biscuits and stuffing was a resounding success.
“Everyone’s really happy we did it,” Anderson said after the meal was over. “Surprisingly, the food was very good.”
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.