Breaking bread and giving thanks

Rather like the waistline after a good Thanksgiving dinner, Lee and Charles Pearre’s idea for a community dinner grew beyond their expectations. Their first community dinner in 1988 totaled 30 people. About 150 people enjoyed dinner Thursday at Old Bridge United Methodist Church in Lake Ridge, which has hosted the open-to-everyone dinner for five years.

The Pearres decided to start the community dinner after they moved from Oklahoma to Lake Ridge, leaving all their family behind.

“We had nobody when we came,” Lee Pearre said. “[The area] is so transient, we thought there had to be people just like us. You need to invite others to come share.”

Several guests seated at the tables filling the church hall echoed the Pearres’ feelings.

“We’re home alone. It’s no fun cooking for two,” said Dolores Chappel, 69, of Woodbridge. She and her husband Sam, 68, agreed the “food is excellent and the company’s fine.” They plan to be back next year.

Preparations began at 6 a.m. Thursday, as Charles Pearre and four other men roasted six 22-pound turkeys in a purpose-built barbecue. Church member Owen Oberg built the barbecue last year, and was on hand Thursday morning to supervise the cooking in his creation. The turkey chefs represented a handful of the 20 or 30 volunteers preparing, serving and cleaning up after the event.

Most of the other dishes creating a rainbow smorgasbord of foods were prepared and donated by church members.

“There are a lot of new faces,” Lee Pearre said of both volunteers and guests.

Lorraine Rosoff was one of the new faces, busily washing plates in the kitchen. Her son is a member of the church’s Boy Scout troop, which put out requests for volunteers, Rosoff said.

“It’s an opportunity for our family to help in some way,” Rosoff, 42, of Dale City said.

The church sent a van over to the drop-in winter homeless shelter, and picked up about 15 people for dinner, Charles Pearre said.

Bill Mehr, who works at the shelter, said that on Thanksgiving, the shelter is “hit by a variety of churches. They stuff us for 24 hours,” he said with a laugh. “We’ll get a lot of food. It is wonderful that churches help out at Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

He just wishes that the flow of donations was as great as it is over the holidays the rest of the year.

In Woodbridge, the Hilda Barg Homeless Prevention Center also put on a Thanksgiving dinner, serving about 75 people.

Marnita Johnson, an After Share coordinator at the center, worked to give the dinner a family atmosphere for both volunteers and center residents.

“Everybody wore a name tag, [and dressed up] so nobody knew who was homeless,” Johnson said.

Johnson also invited several single mothers and their children, and was pleased at the interaction between those children and the children living at the shelter. Her own grandsons were playing with a footlocker-full of Legos in the center’s nursery after dinner.

“It’s like a house — everything got messed up,” Johnson laughs, “It’s one big family, it gets bigger and bigger.”

“For real,” agreed Johnson’s daughter Sheena, 21. “[The volunteers] stay committed.”

“The volunteers come back, and that’s the cool part,” Johnson said.

One of Thursday’s volunteers was Denise Jehue, of Quantico, who plans to return as a tutor in the center’s GED facility.

The 38-year-old was one of about 10 people cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner. She and her family recently moved to Marine Corps Base Quantico, and were looking for someplace to help out.

“We’re new in town, living in a hotel until our house is ready,” Jehue said.

She said volunteering at the center gave her better perspective on temporarily living at Crosslands Hotel on the base.

“You count your blessings. In twenty days, I’m moving into a beautiful house,” Jehue said. After Thursday, if she complains about her temporary situation, she’ll think, “get a life,” she said.

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