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At First Baptist, serving up food and the word

A downtown Wilkes-Barre church offers a holiday dinner and hundreds of guests show up.

Kathy Yweng, Jennifer Eckert, the Rev. Diane Roberts and Deacon Bob Evans, all of Wilkes-Barre, prepare a plate at the Food for the Soul Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner at First Baptist Church Saturday afternoon.

JONATHAN J. JUKA/FOR THE TIMES LEADER

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks. Pastor Diane Roberts believes you should always give thanks for what you have, but also help others.

She had a goal of feeding 1,000 people Saturday during the Food for the Soul Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner she coordinated at the First Baptist Church, 48 S. River St. As of 5:30 p.m. she was well on her way to achieving her goal.

Doors were supposed to open at 3 p.m., but when people showed up at 1:30 p.m. hungry and cold – Roberts couldn’t turn them away.

“This is our passion to reach out to our community and to be an encouragement to someone else,” Roberts said.

Her warm, bubbly spirit shined brightly throughout the event as she welcomed the young and old, men and women, all the while calling out “the price is right. Your belly will be full and you will be blessed,” as people entered the church’s family center for a free home-cooked traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Even though it’s the fourth year for the event, it’s the first year the dinner has been held at the First Baptist Church. Previously, Roberts held the dinner at the Hanover Community Center, but it is now closed, according to Roberts.

Roberts began cooking the feast, which included 13 turkeys, five hams, rice and beans, dressing, macaroni and cheese, various sodas and desserts at 1 p.m. Friday. She worked through the night after being inspired and receiving help from women at the women’s shelter, Ruth’s Place. The shelter relocated to the church last week.

Nathaniel Rainey, 52, of Wilkes-Barre, enjoyed a meal after he volunteered his time to help set up the tables for the throngs of people expected to dine.

He thinks this event fulfilled a dual purpose by offering people a nutritious meal and helping expose people to God.

“I think it’s great for the community because it is a way to get people familiar with the church again,” Rainey said.

Despite the frigid temperatures, several church members came out to serve meals.

“You take for granted everything that you have in your life. You feel so lucky when you see the type of environment other people live in. You just want to give back,” church member Marie Scott said.

All the people receiving a meal wore huge smiles and constantly told volunteers how thankful and appreciative they were for the free, hot dinner.

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