I set down a plate packed with turkey and all the trimmings before a homeless man, one of about 350 people fed Wednesday afternoon by Greater Cincinnati Behavioral Health Services. He smiled and said thank you.
It was the first plate served up at the 13th annual Thanksgiving Feast that the agency, also known as GCB, held at its Walnut Hills headquarters in Hamilton County.
I was one of about 30 people who volunteered a couple hours of their time to try to make the day before Thanksgiving a little brighter for the GCB clients, who have severe mental illnesses.
"A lot of these people have so little, and therefore are so appreciative," said Dr. Tracey Skale, chief medical officer. "A lot of indigent and homeless people."
Some of the agency's 4,400 clients are found living under bridges in Hamilton County, she said. GCB also has an office in Clermont County's Batavia Township, where efforts focus on helping young people ages 16 to 22.
Wednesday's meal was free -- with the turkey, greens, biscuits, and pumpkin pie donated by local companies -- said Joe Johnston, chief operations officer. Staff members did the cooking, while volunteers carried trays to enough tables to serve about 90 people at a time.
Some of the diners gave hugs to volunteers. It resembled a family gathering, but on a bigger scale than most of us are used to at Thanksgiving.
This is a time to give thanks to God for our blessings.
I have many -- including a loving husband of 35 years, a wonderful daughter and terrific son-in-law, and two adorable grandsons.
And yet, I couldn't help thinking about those dinner tables at homes in the Second Congressional District where a chair might be empty this Thanksgiving. Some lost loved ones through military conflict, illness, or accident.
Others are experiencing tough times because of the economic downturn. Too many people have been laid off from jobs through no fault of their own.
My heart goes out to such families.
Earlier Wednesday, at the Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, about 300 people volunteered to pack food for the needy. It was an assembly line. I was among those who toted 10-pound sacks of potatoes, five-pound bags of Ohio apples, and onion sacks that weighed about two pounds.
Some of the food we packed would end up with families as far away as Scioto County, said Anna Hogan, communications manager. The Freestore Foodbank helps people in 20 counties through food pantries, including residents of Clermont County, Brown County, Adams County, and Pike County.
About 2,000 boxes of food -- including a turkey or chicken in each one -- would be distributed Wednesday to needy families, she said. Over a three-day period, about 700 volunteers would pack 10,200 boxes for distribution -- enough to feed more than 25,000 individuals, including 13,000 children.
"There is no way we could do this with just our staff," she said. "It would be complete and total chaos without our volunteers."
It has never been more important for those of us who have been blessed to reach out to help our fellow Americans.
As a nation, we need to come together -- the same way families do.
This Thanksgiving, if you are able to feast on turkey and pie, please say a prayer for those less fortunate.
May God bless each and every one of us.