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A meal with oh so many place settings

The traditions are as numerous as the trimmings. This year, as always, Thanksgiving's reach is wide.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007

St. Vincent de Paul chef Bill Beecher, third from left, organizes volunteers Alexis James, left, 24, Kelley Knettel, 27, and Trisha Peterson, 28, in the pantry Friday as they pack up meals to give out.
[Lara Cerri | Times]
[Lara Cerri | Times]
The Rev. Nan Hubbell, 57, of Largo; Joyce Garcia, 73, of St. Petersburg; Pat Milnes, 73, of Kenneth City; and Esther McCann, 85, of St. Petersburg make centerpieces at St. Mark's United Methodist Church.

ST. PETERSBURG - It's a Thanksgiving tradition in the Yanchunis household. Parents Mary and John and children, Johnny, 21, Joey, 19, Michael, 15, and twins Jennifer and Catherine, 14, head to St. Vincent de Paul.

The St. Petersburg family has spent the past 10 Thanksgivings serving the holiday meal to those less fortunate, one example of those who try to help others this time of year.

Here's another. Last year, the congregation at St. Mark's United Methodist Church decided to serve Thanksgiving dinner to whoever walked through its doors. Members had no idea how many would respond to the invitation posted on their 38th Avenue N sign, but they had enough dinner for the 150 who showed up. They expect many more next week.

At Campbell Park, relatives are continuing a free Thanksgiving dinner started more than a quarter of a century ago by the late Rosa Jackson, who said her kindness was inspired by God.

And for many, the holiday would be incomplete without St. Petersburg's annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. This year the program, which collects offerings for the needy, will be held at First Baptist Church on Gandy Boulevard.

Here's a look at some of the preparations.

* * *

As Mary Yanchunis tells it, she decided to get her family to volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul's food center because she wanted her children to be grateful for what they have.

"They kind of gripe a little bit about getting up early, but once they're there, they really get into it. It's very rewarding," she said, adding that her family is now joined by a friend, 17-year-old Emily Spencer.

With a week to go, though, St. Vincent de Paul, which will serve Thanksgiving dinner from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., is still short of turkeys and the trimmings that make up the festive meal. Besides counting on donations for Thanksgiving dinner to serve 300 homeless people, the center also needs food to fill about 200 baskets that will allow needy families to prepare the holiday meal at home.

Patricia Waltrich, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul, at 384 15th St. N, said the agency is regularly feeding an increasing number of people.

"We've seen more and more people every day for all three meals," she said, adding that executive chef Bill Beecher has noticed more families with children.

"We are anticipating about 300 on Thanksgiving day. Chef Bill will start cooking early that week. He can't start cooking if we don't have the food."

* * *

St. Mark's United Methodist Church will feed those in need and those simply seeking the company of others. The effort began last year, said Teeda Schultz, the church's office manager. The church was surprised by the turnout.

"We had members. We had neighbors. We had people who we didn't even know. We had homeless people. People just came from all over, and people came to help serve," Schultz said.

"We had no idea how many people would come, how many turkeys we would need. God provided what we needed to feed these people."

This year, the congregation is preparing for a full house.

* * *

One tradition might be ending in Campbell Park. Relatives say this could be the last year for the Rosa Jackson Thanksgiving dinner at the Campbell Park Recreation Center.

It was 1973 when the late Rosa Jackson decided to begin offering her free holiday dinner. At first, she used her own money, but as the event grew, she sought donations. When she died, her daughter, Eloise Jones, and grandson, Daryl Jones - who prepares everything except dessert - decided to continue.

Daryl Jones, 45, however, has moved to Apopka with his new wife. Though he returns to St. Petersburg to prepare the meal, his mother, now 69, said it's becoming more difficult to carry on her mother's tradition.

"She's been dead now for 11 years. Donations are getting slower and slower, and then my health is declining," she said.

Additionally, the number of guests has fallen from a high of about 300 to 60 in recent years, Daryl Jones said.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday morning, he'll begin smoking turkeys in his mother's back yard for the Thursday meal.

"We're looking forward to doing it, because I promised my grandmother that as long as I could do it, I would," he said.

* * *

Next Wednesday evening, the St. Petersburg Clergy Association will hold its 25th Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.

Those who attend are being asked to make an offering to benefit several agencies, Operation Attack, the St. Petersburg Free Clinic's We Help services, Daystar Life Center, Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services and ASAP Homeless Services. Participants also are asked for offerings of nonperishable food.

Rabbi Jacob Luski of Congregation B'nai Israel will be the keynote speaker. He said the service offers a unique opportunity for togetherness.

"We are blessed with a wonderful community, where we as Jews, where we as Christians, or Muslims or adherents of any faith, are welcome on Thanksgiving Eve to say, 'Thank you, God."'

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or 727 892-2283.

[Last modified November 13, 2007, 22:41:31]

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