Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 24, 2013

Community Thanksgiving: Inaugural Tazewell dinner amazes

BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Rebecca and Pastor Brian Taylor of the Tannersville, Va., Church of Christ were all smiles as they served turkey and mashed potatoes from the service line at the Tazewell, Va., American Legion Post Saturday.

“We brought 9 volunteers with us from the church,” Rebecca Taylor said. “They’re all teenagers. We have a good group of kids.”

Tazewell Police Chief Dewitt Cooper kept walking through the Legion Hall shaking his head in disbelief.

“I’m still amazed by the whole thing,” Cooper said. “This all started last October or November when Connie (Roberts, Tazewell County Juvenile Court clerk) asked me what I was doing for the holiday last year. All of this came from that conversation. It amazes me.”

With very little fanfare, the Tazewell community organized a community Thanksgiving dinner with all of the trimmings — two kinds of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, rolls, green beans, gravy, soft drinks, desserts and more. Two young men carrying hot trays of food that were heated up in Tazewell town hall asked Roberts where to take the trays.

“Just walk in there,” Roberts said, pointing to the Legion dining hall, and smiling at the young men. “You’ll find where they go.”

“We have a lot of need in this community,” Cooper said. “I’ve been talking with our chaplain (the Reverend Brian Mullins) about it. I thought we would have 40 or 50 people here today, but I had no idea that the response would be like this.”

Cooper said that it was Roberts who came up with the idea of opening the event up to the entire community. “She doesn’t like to use words like needy or underprivileged and neither do I,” Cooper said. “This is for everyone in our community.”

Suddenly, a group of 20-25 young people stood facing the tables and started singing: “This little light of mine; I’m going to let it shine,” and continued the impromptu concert with “Jingle Bells” and other Christmas songs. When asked who the singing group was, Cooper raised his eyebrows, turned both of his palms up and shrugged his shoulders.

“Are you finished with your plate now?” Makayla Sheets asked of one of the diners moments after the group stopped singing. She said that the group was from the Tazewell Family Worship Center Sunday School class. “If there’s anything else I can get for you, just ask,” Sheets said before carrying the diner’s disposable plate to a large trash can.

“So many businesses helped out too,” Cooper said. “We had the Juvenile Court, the Italian Village, the local attorneys’ offices, the churches and everybody.” Cooper parsed to ask a man how long he had been living in Tazewell, and Tony Price answered: “Since May.”

“And Tony’s out here helping with this too,” Cooper said. “I have had people ask me if we’re going to do this for Christmas, Easter or even for next Thanksgiving. I’ve told them that I’m just trying to get through the day.”

Within 45 minutes after opening, the volunteers preparing the take-out meals had already sent out 130 meals, while more orders for 10 meals, 12 meals or more kept arriving by phone. In the mean time, crowds of 50, 60 or more filled the dining hall tables, ate their meals, left and others entered the Legion Hall to take their places. The event started at 11 a.m., and was scheduled to end at 2 p.m.

“This amazes me,” Cooper said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com