The doors flung open in the little fellowship hall of Cedar Grove Baptist Church, tucked far off the main road north of Chester, to accept hungry guests.
When it is the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, in Chester County, and the head cook is Bobbie Brown, the guest list is simple: Everybody.
For Brown, everybody especially means the old and the alone, those without words in their lives, the persons who fill their days many times with silence.
People the rest of the world sometimes forgets.
Brown, for the 25th consecutive year, cooked for as many of those people as she could find Tuesday. What started out a quarter century ago as a couple of turkeys and hams, and love, has blossomed into feeding hundreds of people who are rarely celebrated, except by Brown, her children, and a battalion of volunteers.
“We just try to show these people that they are special, that the thanks we have in our lives is for them, too,” Brown said.
For most of the years Brown saved, and scrimped, and paid for everything herself. She would cook for two, three days, stay up through the night and give it all away. The last couple of years, DSS and the church and others have helped, so now donations cover the cost of the food.
The fellowship hall filled up as quickly as the room would allow, the walls bursting with so many people who had walked in, some using walkers or canes. There were whites and blacks, because there is no difference to Brown.
Every person was seated and Brown led a welcome that thanked each of those people for coming.
“I am just so happy to be here,” said Dorothy Franklin of Great Falls, 89 years old.
“Me, too,” said Mary McClinton, 75, sitting next to Franklin. These two older ladies, one black and one white, held hands during the prayer and the fingers squeezed.
There was clapping from so many people who were being applauded for being a person who is valued. Then each was served by men and women of Brown’s family, and church members, and friends.
Brown’s daughters - Carolyn Boyd, Georgette Boulware, and Vanessa Stanfield - all cooked and scooped and served and, when it was over, scoured pots. They did it with smiles that would not cease.
If somebody wanted extra coconut pie they sure got it. The pie was delivered by Jocelyn Boulware, 17, a senior at Chester High who will be at least the salutatorian, maybe valedictorian, of her graduating class in a few months. But on this day she is Brown’s granddaughter, and she served people, strangers, because that is what this family does: Serve.
One DSS client, a special needs person, clapped and hollered in delight. All in that building knew that joy was shared and nobody worried about when that man would stop.
There was no assigned seating. Everybody is family at Brown’s Thanksgiving meal. You sit down and make a friend.
“To share at this time of year is the true spirit of Thanksgiving,” said Bobbie Brown’s son, Roger, who sure did anything the platoon of women in the place told him to do.
For shut-ins, those who are bedridden or homebound, volunteers made plates and delivered the food.
No buffet line at this place, either. The food, all of it homemade, the turkey and stuffing and pies and cakes and gravy, was brought to each person. The smiles were delivered, too, and like the food, it was a gift for each who sat and received it.
For part of the time Brown sat in a chair, quiet, in a corner. At 75, she deserved a rest. But she has no plans to stop serving. She even gave each person a brand new warm hat and scarf.
“The next 25 years will be even better,” Bobbie Brown said.
Then she stood up, walked to the serving line, picked up a big ol’ pot spoon, and dished out some love.
Boyd Hill Baptist Church will host a free Thanksgiving dinner, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. today at the church on Glenn Street, Rock Hill. The Brotherhood Ministry will have a clothing giveaway.
New Life Seventh Day Adventist Church will have a Thanksgiving food giveaway, 1:30-6:30 p.m. today at the church, 1375 Ogden Road, Rock Hill. The event is co-sponsored by TLC Ministries and Rock Hill Hispanic SDA Church. Canned goods, rice, dry beans, boxed cereals, peanut butter and jelly will be distributed. For information, call 803-329-1046 or 803-366-5433.
Mount Prospect Baptist Church will host a free community dinner at 10 a.m. Saturday at the church on West Black Street, Rock Hill. Eat-in only.