Soldiers training at Fort Gordon who couldn't make it home for Thanksgiving dinner were treated to a traditional Southern spread at Marshall Baptist Church in Thomson last Saturday.
"It's very hard for me, because I'm usually sitting around a big table with all my family," said Joshua Ocana, who joined the Army four months ago from his home in Ft. Worth, Tex. "But this really proves that people support us and what we do."
It was the first holiday away from home for almost all of the young soldiers. It was also their first experience in the South.
"I definitely didn't know what sweet tea was until I came here," said Chris Lagambina. "If I ordered tea at home (Boston), it would come to me hot."
The soldier was enjoying himself so much, he even complimented the décor in the church's gym and said "the candle smells wonderful." He said the event was a big improvement over Thanksgiving day in the barracks, when he ate five bowls of Cheerios and later walked to a Chinese restaurant with fellow soldier, Ian Ribeiro, who is from Hawaii.
"Oh, I'm definitely liking the food here," Ribeiro said. "But not the sweet tea. I can't get used to it."
The fare was cooked by the ladies of the church, and consisted of turkey and ham, dressing, baked macaroni and cheese, sweet potato souffle, lima beans, green beans, deviled eggs, pickles, cranberry sauce and an assortment of pies and cakes. And there was more than enough to satisfy all 80 of the soldiers, plus the church members who helped.
"All we did was just start cooking, and then asked the Lord to multiply it," said Jewel Phillips, who bustled about in her apron between the kitchen and the buffet table.
Mrs. Phillips said she spent all day making four large pans of dressing, but she credited the other ladies in the church for making the cornbread to go in it.
Associate Pastor Bruce Poss said the dinner for soldiers began three years ago when the church was studying the book The Purpose Driven Life. Rev. Poss said one of the challenges in the book is "to do a God-sized task."
"We've got a good group of people here," said Peggy Reville. "All you do is ask, and everybody pitches in."
And it gave the soldiers something to be thankful for.
"It's different, but it's nice," said Jessica Sullivan, who just graduated from basic training and was homesick for her family of nine brothers and sisters in West Virginia. "The people (at Marshall) are wonderful and welcoming and very humble. It sort of makes me feel like home."