Simple gestures can mean so much.
Kevin McDowell of Rock Hill comes from a big family. He remembers everyone coming together for Thanksgiving dinner.
Yet on Thursday, if not for a member of Freedom Temple Ministries inviting him to the church's first "Freedom Feast", McDowell would have been alone.
McDowell sat by himself at one of a dozen or more round tables set up on the gymnasium floor at the church on Main Street in downtown Rock Hill. He wore a gray and black winter jacket and some stubbly whiskers on his 30-something chin. His blue baseball cap was clean and new.
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In front of McDowell, on a styrofoam plate, were the remnants of his Thanksgiving feast. He had polished off his meal of turkey and dressing, and much more.
He could have walked out of the gym. Instead he sat quietly, as if letting the full array of emotions, aromas, warmth and compassion embrace him.
The rush of volunteers serving hungry families went on all around McDowell.
"Seeing another day is enough for me to be thankful for," McDowell said in a humble voice. He wouldn't, he couldn't elaborate further.
Freedom Temple was ramped up to serve 500 people on Thursday. The final count of those who took the church's invitation didn't matter so much. Making the experience a great one for those who were there was of utmost importance.
"We want to treat these folks like they are at a five-star restaurant," volunteer Mike Waithe said.
Some of the volunteers were at the church at 7 a.m., preparing food and setting up for the day. Shelton Strickland orchestrated a rotating kitchen staff of 10-15 good folks.
Church members Steve Loney and Sandra Thompson organized the event and put more good folks - 100 or more volunteers - to work as food servers, greeters and helping hands.
Brian Parks lives just a block or two away from Freedom Temple, the church he calls his own. He came to eat about 12:30 p.m. so he could get back home in time to watch football on television.
Parks flashed the kind of smile that can only be perfected with daily practice, which he gets a lot of as a bell-ringer for the Salvation Army. He has another part-time job in Charlotte. You might find him outside a local Wal-Mart or a Food Lion store this holiday season.
"My boss says I'm a good worker," Parks said. "I don't have any transportation, so I'm thankful my boss picks me up and takes me to work and brings me home."
McDowell and Parks had it right on Thursday. They were thankful for the simplest things - another day, a ride to work.
Life can be that simple.
'God continues to bless us'
Freedom Temple Ministries has been involved in the community for 10 years. Setting up for a dinner to feed so many was a new challenge this year.
"This is our first year doing this on this magnitude," Pastor Herb Crump said. "Realizing the economic times we're in, we wanted to help as many people as we could. It's a way to show our love and concern for mankind."
Crump spoke to every person he saw. He gave lots of hugs. He talked football.
His job description for the day was a simple one.
"My job today is to pray," Crump said. "I've been told to stay out of the kitchen. I'll serve food. We love it.
"As God continues to bless us, we continue to serve."
Jawanna King and daughter Niya, 8, helped people sign a guest book as they arrived. King's husband and the couple's two other children also were volunteers. Jawanna' sister-in-law and nephew were visiting for Thanksgiving. They, too, volunteered.
"I really wanted to bring my children out to see what it is to be involved in the community," Jawanna King said. "This is just a great thing. I love this church and the way it focuses on the community."
Plenty to feel good about
With the smell of Thanksgiving dinner wafting through the room and out into the parking lot, there was plenty to feel good about on this holiday.
"Good health," was the way volunteer Dwayne Mattison put it.
"Glad to be here and be able to help people," Larry Adams, another volunteer said.
"Happy to be alive and healthy," James Swain, yet another volunteer said.
Jonathan King was thankful for his salvation. "God chose me to administer his word."
An invitation. A hug. A conversation and some good food. Simple things, thankfully done.