CLINTON — Ben Hester has attended the Victory Center dinner almost every Thanksgiving since moving to Clinton approximately seven years ago. He enjoys the food and sitting with the other people.
“It’s nice for me to get out and be around other people,” Hester said Wednesday.
While Hester often gets a food basket from an area church or the Salvation Army, he said he probably would not celebrate Thanksgiving if not for the dinner.
“Don’t have no one to celebrate it with,” Hester said.
Hester was just one of hundreds who attended the Victory Center’s annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet on Wednesday at Ashford University. Victory Center Executive Director Pastor Ray Giminez was excited to see the large crowd Wednesday, adding that it seemed to be the best turnout in years.
After the dinner, Giminez reported that 651 meals were served to guests and volunteers. A total of 707 people attended, including 560 members of the community and 147 volunteers.
Many first-time volunteers worked the dinner, filling plates, serving drinks and food to guests and cutting deserts. A total of 13 people from the Village Cooperative attended the dinner as volunteers.
Jay and Marcia Smith could be seen serving plates of food to their table. The couple became involved this year through her work. Waiting in line to load up with more food, Jay said he was enjoying the dinner.
“It’s great. It’s fantastic,” Jay said.
Volunteer Joyce Hildreth has helped other organizations, but had never worked the Thanksgiving dinner before. She and Karen Hart chatted and laughed as they served up pie and cake.
“We’re having more fun than anyone,” Hildreth said.
Besides a free meal and fellowship, the dinner also gave away 40 turkeys, 20 food boxes and $750 in cash prizes. Former Clinton Mayor LaMetta Wynn gave out most of the prizes, calling out the winning raffle tickets. Other prizes included a 32-inch television, four children’s bicycles, 200 new toys, a get-a-way for a married couple and more.
Hester won a $25 prize. He said it was just another reason why the dinner is great.
Another winner was Lindsay Whallon, who received the grocery cart full of food. She and Brian VanDorn attended the dinner for the second year with their children, Rylan, 2, and Avery, 3.
“Win prizes; get toys; eat turkey,” Whallon said.