ELKHART — Nearly 2,000 people turned out Thursday for the Elkhart Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving meal at Matterhorn Conference Center.
The largest of several free meals offered locally, the Salvation Army served 1,800 meals from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Actually, 300 of those meals were served even before 11, Major Steve Woodard said. There were already 200 people waiting outside the Matterhorn’s doors before 11 and 100 deliveries were made prior to the opening as well.
Even though they didn’t quite reach their goal of 2,000 people served, Woodard counted the event a success. “It was a good day,” he said.
More than 300 volunteers helped to provide a meal that included turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and pie.
The Thanksgiving meal, which the Elkhart Army has put on for decades, provides a special day for those who may not have had Thanksgiving plans otherwise.
“It gives me goosebumps thinking about it,” Woodard said. “It instills a little hope for people. We try to make it feel like a little bit of home.”
Though the target of the meals is those less fortunate, Woodard said all sorts of people come out to the meals, which are free to anyone who wishes to participate.
He said the meals give residents a chance to connect with others when they may not have had those opportunities throughout much of the year, and the Army is more than happy to provide that chance.
“It’s about how God can use us to provide hope and love to people that are sometimes forgotten,” Woodard said.
Another free meal was held at First United Methodist Church on Fifth Street in Goshen.
For the 21st year, one of the church’s Sunday schools held the event for Goshen-area residents who cannot afford a Thanksgiving meal or who would otherwise spend the holiday alone, said Dina Payne, one of the event’s organizers.
More than 500 people passed through First United’s gym Thursday from 11 a.m. until just after 1 p.m., when the main courses ran out.
Running out of food, though, was a good sign, Payne noted. She said they would definitely make sure there was more next year.
“There’s just really a need right now,” she said.