The West Erwin Church of Christ Benevolence Center was a busy mix of servers and cooks as people took their seats to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.

In its fifth year of putting on the meal, the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission expected to serve about 200 people on Wednesday, a day before the actual holiday.

Hiway 80 Rescue Mission Executive Director Eric Burger said the lunch provides an opportunity to reach out to the community and also potentially help get people connected with resources the nonprofit organization provides.

City Councilman Don Warren, a Hiway 80 Rescue Mission board member, has made volunteering at this event a priority as have his family members including wife, daughter and grandchildren.

“I think it’s important that all these people have hope,” Warren said. “A lot of these people don’t have hope and they’re lost.”

Earlene Wilson, 59, of Tyler, who is retired, was among the guests at the Thanksgiving lunch. She said she is thankful for her life, her health and her strength.

“I love to be around people,” she said. “Everybody needs love. Everybody needs (food). The most important thing, I’m thankful to have God in my life. You ain’t got Jesus. You ain’t got nothing.”

Shirley Cleaver, 66, of Tyler, who is disabled, came to the meal with her two granddaughters, ages 2 and 3.

“I always enjoy coming to the Thanksgiving dinner because the food is good,” she said. “I like the environment and I love to fellowship with the people here.”

Katherine Hambrick, 56, of Tyler, who is disabled, also expressed her thanks for the people who put on the meal.

“(I’m) thankful for just my life, my health and strength, that’s the most important thing,” Ms. Hambrick said.

Robert and Jenny Ullrich of Tyler came out with their granddaughters.

“We enjoy fellowshipping with churches and being out with people that we go to church with,” Ullrich, 51, said.

The couple attend a Sunday night Bible study that takes place at the West Erwin Church of Christ Benevolence Center.

“It’s just a good place to fellowship,” he said.

Volunteer Dewayne Manning, 76, of Tyler has helped serve the Thanksgiving meal for 12 years, even before the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission took it over from local churches. He said he has a heart for the people there and over the years has learned people are all the same. His wife, daughter and granddaughter also volunteered.

Verma Williams, 53, of Tyler, a certified nursing assistant, planned to come to the meal to eat with her 10-year-old granddaughter, Arianna Wigfall.

However, when they arrived Ms. Williams decided they could help first. She realized her granddaughter learns from what she does and she wanted to set a good example.

“Before we eat, we’re (going to) give back,” she said.

Twitter: @TMTEmily




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