A half-hour before the doors opened on Sunday, Mike Meers of Akron watched as children, their parents and the elderly formed a long line outside the brick and block building of the American Red Cross of Summit and Portage Counties.
Some talked about the Thanksgiving meal they were about to enjoy. Others chatted about the recession and their financial woes.
''Because of the economy, people are flipping out wondering how they are going to make it from week to week,'' said Meers, who had come for the turkey, mashed potatoes, corn and other holiday favorites. ''The people in there [the Red Cross building] are pouring their hearts out to the community.''
Employees of AT&T and AT&T Pioneers donated their time and money for Sunday's feast. AT&T's Rich Despoth, vice president of community service for the Northeast Council Telephone Pioneers organization, explained that the Pioneers are made up of AT&T employees and retirees. On Sunday, members and their families came to the Red Cross to lend a hand.
''It's something they look forward to every year,'' said Despoth, who was dressed in a Pilgrim costume for the event.
As the doors opened, Red Cross volunteer Fred Cooper prayed.
''Thank you, God, for getting us here to share in this feast. . .and bless this food for our use and us to your service.''
Cooper's prayer was followed by a wave of ''amens.''
The 264 people who were served were encouraged to tell two things they were thankful for in their lives.
''I'm thankful that there are places like this to help people out,'' Meers said.
''God and family,'' someone else whispered.
Time and again the people thanked those who had provided them with Sunday's meal. Rows of tables were adorned with strings of silk leaves in autumn colors, candles and Thanksgiving decorations.
Hot meals are served at the Red Cross on West Market Street on the second and fourth Sundays of each month, although in December, the meal will be provided only on Dec. 13.
The Red Cross chapter has promoted community dinners as a way for local businesses and organizations to offer a service opportunity to their employees or members. The Tallmadge High School Leaders in Action, for instance, recently gave up a Sunday afternoon to help. Next month, the administration of Oriana House will be the hosts.
Funding also comes from the United Way of Summit County, foundations, corporations and individual donors.
At Sunday's dinner, the folks who came to the Red Cross also received a bag filled with things like fruit, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and tuna.
''I don't need one,'' said Jerry Morris, who explained that he was staying at the Haven of Rest, a shelter in Akron, and didn't need the food. ''Give it to someone else who needs it more than me.''
Meaning of holiday
In honor of Thanksgiving, Red Cross education and training instructor JoAnne Waters read Sunday to the volunteers and the diners to help everyone remember the meaning of the holiday. Her selection was Five Kernels:
''The first winter in Plymouth was very cold. Hunger abounded as the year unrolled. Some days, each only had five kernels of corn. Their lives were becoming sad and forlorn. But spring came and their harvest grew.
''The Pilgrims began to thrive and their spirits did, too. They never forgot the bleak times after they did abate. So on Thanksgiving, they put five kernels on each plate.
''The first kernel reminded them of the autumn beauty.
''The second of freedom they held dearly.
''The third reminded [them] of their love and care for each other.
''The fourth was for dear friends — like the Indian brother.
''The fifth kernel reminded [them] of God's love and care for all.
''So as you prepare and celebrate Thanksgiving. . .remember to put five kernels on each dinner plate — to honor the Pilgrims and give thanks for one good fate.''
More about meals
The American Red Cross of Summit and Portage Counties provides hot meals between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at 501 W. Market St., Akron.
For information about becoming a community dinner sponsor, contact Dorothy Wiseman at 330-535-2350 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn about volunteer opportunities, contact Robin Barclay at 330-535-2476 or e-mail email@example.com.
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.