By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer
A total of 611 meals were served during the Victory Center’s Great Thanksgiving Banquet on Wednesday night.
“The volunteers, the residents of the Victory Center, many pastors, the board of directors and the poor all came together to become one family for one evening,” Pastor Ray Gimenez, Executive Director of the Victory Center, said in an email after the event. “It truly measured up to its name ‘The Great Thanksgiving Banquet.’”
Gimenez said Wednesday night’s turnout was the greatest the event has ever seen. The 611 meals included 27 carry outs and for the more than 75 volunteers.
First-time Volunteer Graham Nugent marveled at the amount of people who filled half of the Durgin Center at Ashford University. A senior Ashford student from Ireland, Nugent was volunteering at the event as part of a class service project.
“It’s wonderful to see this many people turn out,” Nugent said.
The Thanksgiving banquet was held in the Durgin Center for the first time. The larger location offered diners and volunteers more space to move around. Instead of having the diners serving themselves, volunteers were able to serve them their dinners.
“Partnering with Ashford University truly was advantageous to the big crowd,” Gimenez said.
Gimenez felt that the large facility “accommodated everyone perfectly.”
Ashford’s Head Chef Jimmy Susi and his staff cooked the meal, which Gimenez thought was delicious and loved by all. Many of the first-time volunteers were Ashford University students.
This year’s banquet saw many new faces. Dawn Firrell, of Camanche, her daughter Morgen Firrell, 15, of Camanche and Robert Dick, of Clinton volunteered as servers at the dinner for the first time. Dawn Firrell said they wanted to do something for the community during the holiday season and thought of the banquet. She thought the space at Ashford was perfect for the dinner. Ashford Student Andrew Carbajal was volunteering at the dinner for the first time. First-time volunteer Tom Kenneavy, of Camanche, could be found passing out rolls to the guests. Chase Cartwright, Ashford student and a first-time volunteer, could be found plating up food along side Ashford employee Carolyn Judon, of Fulton, Ill., This was Judon’s second year volunteering during the dinner.
“I really like helping out,” Judon said. “Everyone should give back, holidays or not.”
There were some new diners at the banquet as well. Lindsay Whallon, of Clinton, brought her chil- dren, Avery VanDorn, 2, and Rylan VanDorn, 1, to the banquet for the first time.
Omar Mateo, 3, of Clinton, attended the event for the first time along with his mother, Rufina Mateo, and his aunt, C.C. Guzman.
“Just wondered how it was,” Thomas Cannon, of Clinton, said about why he decided to come to the dinner this year.
Cannon said he really enjoyed the banquet. He thought it was in a wonderful location with good food and volunteers.
Throughout the night, Oscar Peralez from Muscatine provided entertainment and a variety of prizes were given out. More than 900 canned goods were donated through a food drive sponsored by the Clinton Herald and other area businesses. This allowed the Victory Center to give away 25 food boxes and a turkey. Children attending the event received a prize. Children’s bicycles were given away.
Gimenez was thankful to former Clinton Mayor LaMetta Wynn and Gimenez’s righthand man, Pastor Lyle Wilkins, for all of their work and support of the banquet. He also thanked the Victory Center volunteers and staff as well as the Clinton Herald.
“In the book of John in the Bible Jesus prayed that we become one,” Gimenez said. “To see the smiles on the faces of many struggling people, to see the children playing and dancing together, to see the joy of those who won food boxes with a turkey (25) and 600 people singing ‘How Great is our God,’ I will have to say that for one evening the city of Clinton became one.”