“We've got a rainbow coalition of God's children here today, and no one goes away hungry,” said a prideful Cookie Clark.
Dressed in a silky green blouse, black pants and running shoes, Clark was always on the move and never let go of her disposable camera as the kitchen turned out 15 turkeys, tubs of dressing, and vats of beans that fed more than 400 people.
Clark said there were more than 50 people who volunteered their time for the Day of Caring. “My youngest volunteer is 10 and the oldest is 76,” she said.
Pembroke's third annual Day of Caring and Sharing, organized by Sacred Pathways, turned the Pembroke City Fire Department into a dining hall. Long festive tables were set up near the fire trucks as men, women and children crowded in for a hot meal.
Free Thanksgiving dinners were served to all who dropped in, and more than 170 prepared meals were delivered to the elderly and shut-ins throughout the town.
A boisterous group of volunteers - some from Hope Mills, Fayetteville and beyond - helped dole out the turkey, dressing, sodas and good cheer. Welcoming the first wave of diners was Ruth Woods of Sacred Pathways.
“We welcome you. The food is hot. We're so pleased to have this opportunity to be together today,” she said.
The Rev. Dufrene Cummings offered a blessing and said, “The smallest acts of kindness are never forgotten ... we never forget what people do for us. Remember that love is stronger than hate ... we are our brothers and sisters keeper.”
Several area churches took part in the Day of Caring, helping prepare and warm food, some offering equipment and others money donations. Students and faculty from The University of North Carolina at Pembroke took part, as did a couple of folks from Fayetteville State University.
“I've got a philosophy: Why feed someone overseas when somebody next door is starving?” said Marvin Jacobs, 25, a recent graduate of UNCP who doling out large spoonfuls of dressing.
A woman listening nearby nodded her head in agreement and said with conviction, “Reach one, teach one.”
Harvey Houdyshell, 75, and his wife, Katie, 76, helped in the kitchen and at the long serving table. The couple, married for 54 years, chipped in at church functions for years when they lived in Illinois and Florida.
Asked why he was there, Harvey smiled wide and responded, “Why not?”
And then he explained: “There is some satisfaction to see that somebody else's needs are met,” he said.
While Harvey scooped out cranberries, Katie was in the kitchen washing dishes and pans.
Katie does plenty of volunteer work with Bakers Chapel Baptist Church in Maxton.
“It's my joy - I love doing things like this,” she said.
This is the first year she and Harvey have helped at the Day of Caring, but Katie promises to do her part next Thanksgiving, too.
“I'll be here for the rest of my living days,” she said.
Town Councilman Allen Dial, looking out over the hungry crowd, said this is a needed service.
“A lot of these people wouldn't get a meal today otherwise,” he said. Dial and his wife Yvonne helped in the kitchen, and delivered some of the takeout meals.
“We see the plight,” said the Rev. Dwayne Lowry, counselor in residence at Sacred Pathways, a non-profit that runs a soup kitchen, food distribution and other community services in the Pembroke area.
Lowry coaxed a visitor out behind the fire station and pointed toward an old white building across the railroad tracks.
“That's where they stay,” he said, referring to the town's homeless. “They can get out of the weather at least ... and that's where a lot of them sleep.”
Sacred Pathways has identified more than 90 homeless people in and around Pembroke, Lowry said.
“We have a shelter for dogs and cats, but not for people - it's a little disturbing,” Lowry said, shaking his head.
“The good thing is all this support we have, the volunteers and the churches, and the donations, Lowry said. “We couldn't do it without others. We're like the hub of a wheel.”
Dr. Martin Brooks of Pembroke was pleased by the response to the Day of Caring, from the volunteers who came out to the people who came to eat.
“It's important to help your fellow man. This is one good example of love thy neighbor,” Brooks said.
Pembroke Mayor Milton R. Hunt stopped in to say a quick hello.
“We want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving,” he said.
Hunt then received a thank you from a bearded and disheveled man in mismatched clothes who rose from his dinner to give the mayor a bear hug.
“God bless you,” the man said, patting Hunt firmly on the back. “God bless you.”
Then he sat back down and cleaned his plate.