ELKHART — Those in need of a place to go for a free Thanksgiving meal and fellowship weren’t without options in the Elkhart area.

A local church and other organizations hosted free community meals this year to celebrate the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday.

On Thanksgiving Eve, parishioners and community members flocked to Central Christian Church on West Franklin Street for its Annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

The menu included turkey along with other traditional Thanksgiving trimmings such as stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an assortment of desserts.

There was a long line before the start of the dinner Wednesday evening and it continued to grow as the event went on. Organizers said they were expecting an overall turnout of about 200.

Amber Kohl, a member of Central Christian Church, said this is the 25th year the church has held its community dinner with the objective of providing a meal and space for those in need.

“Based on our location, we see a lot of people in need in our area,” Kohl said. “So this (dinner) is just our way to give back to the community, invite them and let them know that whatever walk of life they’re facing they’re welcome to be here with us, dine with us and also worship with us.”

On Thanksgiving Day, the Salvation Army, Elkhart Noon Rotary, United Pies Company and Matterhorn teamed up and set out a Thanksgiving meal for close to 2,000 people.

Held at the Matterhorn Conference Center, 2041 Cassopolis St., the event featured turkey and all the fixings, which included stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and various pies, among other Thanksgiving favorites.

The event originally was hosted at the Salvation Army but it has grown substantially so it was moved to the Matterhorn Conference Center. This marks the 11th year the event has been held at the Matterhorn.

More than 500 families were served food in the first hour. Families with young children, couples and seniors were all in attendance.

Kurt Janowsky, owner of the Matterhorn, said this was probably the event’s busiest year.

“I’d say we’re 20 percent busier than last year,” he said. “There was a line at 10 a.m., we opened at 10:30 a.m. and we’ve been full ever since.”

Janowsky said he believes the long-standing event provides a sense of community.

“People feel pretty good when they come in,” he said. “It’s warm in here, they’re going to see others. You get a lot of big groups and families who are economically disadvantaged and might not be able to afford putting Thanksgiving dinner on the table, or you might also get a lot of single people or elderly widows who need company and don’t want to be alone for Thanksgiving. It’s ethnically, generationally and economically diverse. This is a no-judgment zone and a feel-good environment.”

King Gyros in Elkhart was also open on Thanksgiving Day. The restaurant encouraged anyone in need to stop by for a free traditional Thanksgiving meal and company.

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