Thanksgiving meal at the YMCA feeds 2,000

Amid the roar of hundreds of people eating, talking, serving food and singing Christmas carols, Virgil Vaughn sat down to a Thanksgiving meal.

"People go through things, but... it doesn't mean you can't come here, eat and be grateful,'' he said.

"I'm able to come here and be blessed."

On the edge of homelessness, Vaughn said he had looked forward to the turkey and stuffing.

"I got family and friends but this is more convenient at this time," he said. "Some people maybe look down at this, but I've been blessed."

More than 2,000 meals were prepared Wednesday for the YMCA's 33rd annual We Care Thanksgiving dinner, which was served in the Y's Central Branch downtown.

Some people began standing in line as early as 6 a.m. Wednesday for the free holiday meal, said Elizabeth Avelar, outreach director for the YMCA. The lunch began at 11 a.m.

The line of people snaked from the front door of the Y building on Market Street down a sidewalk for a block along Third to Broadway and around. Vaughn said he stood in line an hour.

The YMCA partners each year with Westar Energy and other area businesses to produce the meal. The Honeysuckle White turkey More to Share program, a charitable program of Cargill, provided many of the turkeys, along with Dillons.

Nearly 90 Westar employees volunteered to serve the meals along with 30 YMCA employees, Avelar said.

Syl's Catering donated preparation of the meal, and Northeast High School students sang carols.

"It is a great community event," said Jim Ludwig, Westar executive vice president. "We have been involved, I think, in every year that it has been in existence. We know... there are a lot of folks who wouldn't have a Thanksgiving feast if it weren't for the We Care dinner."

Cari Thompson, one of the Westar Energy volunteers who was staffing a table full of pumpkin pie slices, said she looked forward to the meal. Wednesday marked her third year as a volunteer at the event.

"All my kids are out of town so I don't get to have the traditional Thanksgiving and see my kids' faces light up," she said. "So, it is nice to look out and see all these hundreds of people coming through and know they are getting good food and sitting in a place that is nice and warm."