If you feed them, they will come.
Nearly 400 people walked off the streets and into the Good News at Noon homeless shelter on Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional feast.
The hungry and homeless dug into a spread of 36 turkeys with all the trimmings — dressing, sweet potato souffle, rice and gravy, broccoli, rolls, cake, and apple, cherry and peach pies.
"It went smooth," said Mike Robinson, a manager of the Good News at Noon homeless shelter on Davis Street. "I guess because we’ve had so many people that have come before."
Founder and director Gene Beckstein, 85, said there were about 150 volunteers who arrived at the shelter early Thursday morning to help with food preparation. Many also helped bag food donations as well as serve the dinner and clean up afterward.
"We don’t ask for food; it just comes. We don’t ask for volunteers; they just come. We don’t ask for money; it just comes," Beckstein said.
The Good News at Noon Thanksgiving dinner has had several behind-the-scene helpers contribute throughout the years.
Ellen Rogers has taken the helm at the Good News at Noon kitchen for the shelter’s Thanksgiving dinner for the past 10 years. In addition to organizing the kitchen crew for Thursday’s meal, she made the dressing that hundreds gobbled up.
Rogers and her children prepare food for about 100 people at the Good News at Noon shelter on the fourth Friday of each month. She said the food she makes isn’t just a soup and sandwich meal, either.
She said she likes to make salmon croquettes and cabbage, homemade biscuits, meatloaf and homemade macaroni and cheese. Rogers, 80, said she’s been making meals for shelters for about 50 years. She estimated she has served more than 75,000 plates to the hungry.
"I get joy from it," Rogers said. "I get a blessing when I can help somebody."
Beckstein also credits Mrs. James Baker with the supply of the 36 turkeys.
Affectionately referred to as "Mr. B," Beckstein said that he is continuously amazed at the volunteers who show up early on holiday mornings.
Pamela Gepfrey brought her 14-year-old son, Patrick, and her boyfriend, Cley Dorfman, to volunteer.
"There’s a lot of people that have less than what I have, and I wanted to help give them something," Pamela Gepfrey said.
"Just by being here and letting people know there are people that care about them, it probably gives them hope," Dorfman added.
Patrick Gepfrey spent the day filling cups with ice, filling bags with sugar and rice for the kitchen supply, and serving food and drinks to hundreds.
"I just like seeing everybody’s smiling faces," Patrick said. "I’m thankful for having a happy family that can come help the less fortunate, and I’m thankful for my dog, Marshall, who is at home right now."
Beckstein said volunteers came from as far away as the Carolinas to help with the Thanksgiving dinner.
Even some of the men who once lived in Beckstein’s shelter came to help.
Walter Sailor lived at the Good News at Noon shelter for nearly two years, and met his current wife there. Thursday, he brought his wife and three sons to the dinner to eat and help serve food.
"It was delicious," Sailor said. "It means a lot to me. Everybody loves each other; everybody helps each other here."
Sailor now lives in an apartment with his family, but continues to attend Family Night on Thursday evenings to help the shelter and people he said helped him to regain his life.
"The only reason we do this is because we believe Jesus Christ is Lord," said Thomas Ramirez, who was once homeless and addicted to drugs. Now, he helps Beckstein run the shelter and children’s ministry.
"Both (Thomas and I) were on drugs, both of us were in jail," Beckstein said. "And Christ saw something worthwhile in both of us."
Ramirez said the shelter is much more than a place to eat and sleep. "It’s a family, a spiritual family," he said.
Beckstein added that although Thanksgiving is a great time to give to the community and give thanks, it is the times when no one is looking that kindness matters most.
"The way we deal with our wife and children, the daily work," he said, "is more important than this whole thing."
"I don’t know how they hear about it," he said. "But they just come."