YMCA serves nearly 2,000 Thanksgiving dinners

"I'm Mikey. I'll eat anything," Herbert Fitchpatrick joked at the YMCA's 32nd annual We Care Thanksgiving dinner. Fitchpatrick evoked Mikey from those old Life cereal commercials as he gratefully took some dark-meat turkey that a fellow diner didn't want, making the heap of food on his plate even higher.

As string musicians played above, Fitchpatrick enjoyed turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and all the trimmings of Thanksgiving.

"It's always a great dinner. I think of it as a 'bless you' for paying your electric bill," the 54-year-old said, alluding to the Westar employees who volunteer to serve the meal.

Like many eating at the Robert D. Love Central Branch YMCA, Fitchpatrick is homeless.

He's been without a place to call home since September.

"I go to all the soup lines," he said.

Today, he will stop by some friends' houses, hoping for more turkey.

It took 200 pumpkin pies, 150 volunteers, 110 turkeys and loads of green beans, stuffing and mashed potatoes to feed Fitchpatrick and others at the meal, said Elizabeth Avelar, outreach director for the Central Branch YMCA. Syl's Catering donated preparation of the meal, and Honeysuckle White's "More to Share" program donated the turkeys.

The dinner began at 11 a.m., and a line snaked around the YMCA before the doors opened.

By 11:27 a.m., a volunteer counting people in line had already logged in 316.

Avelar said volunteers served 964 people at the YMCA and handed out 1,950 meals altogether. Some people took meals to go for others.

Last year, the YMCA served 2,200 meals.

During the dinner, people also could take a coat, pair of gloves or other winter item.

Rufus Key, who has been homeless for about a month, hoped to find a coat that reached to his knees.

"Possibly a hoodie and some gloves," he added. "It's getting cold out there."

It was Key's first time at the YMCA dinner. He's been living in Wichita since July, when he moved here from Arizona.

Key was one of the first to be served dinner.

"I'm very grateful," he said. "It's a godsend."

It's that spirit that keeps Randy Truitt coming back every year as a volunteer.

Westar employees aren't required to volunteer, he said, but Truitt does "just to help out the community. It's a good cause. It makes you feel real thankful for what you have."

Cristie Rodriguez, Janet Knapp, Jackie Rolfe and Jana Fleming were on "pie duty," keeping pieces of pumpkin pie on hand for servers.

"It makes you feel good that these kids are going to have a good Thanksgiving," Knapp said.

Robin Johnson came to the dinner with her partner and their two sons, who are 5 and 2 years old.

Johnson said she'd been to the dinner three or four times before.

Johnson said she and her family were homeless this past summer, camping at a lake near Newton. They have a place to live now.

"We're very grateful they do this," Johnson said of the meal. "It's a good meal, and we really don't have a whole lot of food."

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