TOPEKA — Perhaps more so than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is a time for people to be together.
That sentiment was on display once again Thursday, when the 51st annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner was held at the Kansas Expocentre's Agriculture Hall, near S.W. 17th and Tyler.
About 800 people turned out for the free meal inside Ag Hall, where long tables were placed end to end.
In addition, about 2,700 dinners were delivered to homes across Topeka.
Organizers said the total number of meals served on Thursday was more than 3,500 — up nearly 1,000 from the 2,550 served at least year's dinner.
As usual, a small army of volunteers pulled off the dinner on Thursday.
And, as usual, the Topeka community responded to an eleventh hour call for help, bringing in dozens of cans of sweet potatoes and showing up to volunteer as drivers for the many meals delivered across the city.
The meal included sliced turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls and pumpkin pie.
A well-orchestrated system was in place as volunteers carried large circular trays containing several dinners to the tables where people were seated. Others made sure people had plenty of soft drinks and coffee in their cups.
Volunteers said they were glad to be able to spend part of their Thanksgiving serving meals to people from all walks of life and all corners of town.
Linda Perkins said she came to volunteer after the Rev. Adrian Goodlow, pastor of her church, presented the opportunity to serve at a recent service at Church of the Living God, 2816 S.E. Jefferson.
Perkins, who was helping put turkey on dinner plates, said the church members came "to be a blessing."
Those who dined at Ag Hall praised the volunteers.
"I've been coming to this dinner for about the last 10 years," said Tim Rohr, 61, of Topeka. "What I like is the people and the food."
Rohr said he was impressed with the way volunteers worked together to get the meals to guests: "They did an excellent job," he said.
About 200 volunteers continued the longstanding community dinner tradition, which traces its history to 1968, when Pauline Johnson and the late Addie Spicher organized a Thanksgiving meal at the former East Topeka United Methodist Church at S.E. 7th and Lime.
The late Grant Cushinberry started a dinner about the same time, and the two meals later merged. Cushinberry spearheaded efforts during the 1970s, '80s and '90s to line up donations, locations and volunteers for the meal, which was held in the old Municipal Auditorium and the Kansas National Guard Armory before finally finding a home at Ag Hall.
The meal for the past few years has been organized by the Topeka Community Thanksgiving Dinner Foundation. For a number of years, Myron Johnson, the son of Pauline Johnson, served as president of the foundation, and Dwight Menke served as its vice president. Johnson and Menke stepped down from their roles after last year's dinner.
David Braun, 25, of Topeka, volunteered to take the lead for the foundation for this year's dinner. He said Thursday afternoon that he was pleased with the event.
"I think it was successful," Braun said. "It was a lot of fun. We got a lot of people fed, and everyone had a good time."
Braun said that while there was no shortage of food donations, the Community Thanksgiving Dinner Foundation was still about $1,000 shy of its $12,000 goal for the meal. Donations may be dropped off at any CoreFirst Bank location in Topeka.