SHAMOKIN - Before the WhatNot Shoppe Cafe opened Thursday to serve a free Thanksgiving meal, owner and chief cook Cindy Carpenter heard a knock at the door.

It wasn't an anxious diner. It was another person dropping off money and food, doing their part to support the community effort.

"It's the true meaning of Thanksgiving," Carpenter said.

WhatNot offered its facility as a place to serve the meal in conjunction with God's Chuckwagon, the mobile soup kitchen that operates one day each week in Shamokin and Mount Carmel.

It was one of two free meals offered Thursday in Shamokin. Another free meal was offered in Kulpmont.

Great response

Carpenter said her restaurant filled up as soon as the doors opened.

"This is our first year doing it, and it's been such a great response," she said.

Carpenter said the best part was seeing people of all kinds come together.

"If you look back at our history, the pilgrims and Indians did not like each other, but they sat together and broke bread," she said. "On this day, it doesn't matter if you're red, white, brown - we are all the same in God's eyes."

Carpenter thanked Salem United Church of Christ for providing pies and rolls, members of Our Lady of Hope Church for their assistance - and God's Chuckwagon founders Jim and Janet Bowers for the inspiration.

"I watched them Tuesday serve meals in the blustery wind, and so and my heart was just touched," Carpenter said. "All I could do was call them angels for what they do."

Real mashed potatoes

Thursday marked the third annual community Thanksgiving dinner at Restoration Ministries. It wasn't simply the amount of food that was served that impressed Pastor Paul Eby; it was the number of people who came out to help.

"We had people here taking care of every little facet of the dinner," Eby said. "Everything got done in no time.

"We even had enough help here to peel 90 pounds of potatoes to make real mashed potatoes, not instant," he added.

Francine Jones, head cook, said the church hosts a soup kitchen each week, but she looks forward to the Thanksgiving meal.

"I will have my big Thanksgiving meal with my family this weekend, but I love preparing for this and serving everyone," Jones said.

Eby and Jones wish more people would come to the dinner.

"The important thing for them to know is that someone cares about them and there is a place for them to enjoy the holiday," Jones said.

Fellowship for all

At Holy Angels Church, Kulpmont, a crew of volunteers was busy roasting turkeys on Tuesday and preparing side dishes Wednesday, said Paul Niglio.

"When we came in this morning, it was just setting the place up and heating the food," he said

Between takeout meals and people sitting to eat, Niglio estimated 150 meals were served.

"It's great to see people coming together for this time of fellowship," he said. "No one needs to be alone on this day."