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YMCA holds first-ever Thanksgiving dinner

The Suffolk YMCA’s early Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday had something for everyone n and Ariel Salerno, 7, experienced it all.

“I played games for a while, and then I made a gingerbread man for the Christmas tree,” said the Kilby Shores Elementary School student. “I really liked making him. Then we got in line for food. I didn’t even really know we were coming her until my granny told me.”

“I thought it would be something nice to do,” said Mary Salerno, the aforementioned granny. “There were arts and crafts, and I knew Ariel would like that, and there was praise music, and I knew we’d all like that.”

They were two of more than 200 visitors to the first-ever event in the Childcare center, feasting on food and drink that many of the visitors themselves had provided.

“All this was donated from the (Celebration) church, members and staff,” said Executive Director Rick Matthews. “We wanted to start a tradition, and this was a great way to kick off our holiday spirit. We built some deep connections with our community.”

The church, which meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at the YMCA, provided more than just food; the church band started off the event with some praise music, and Kristi Hall and other singers dished out solos of “A Moment Like This,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and other tunes.

“They asked me to sing, and I said I’d love to,” said Hall, a student at Lakeland High School. “We’re trying to help our church, and make people aware of us. I’m excited; this isn’t just for people who are from our church or of the Y, it’s great for everyone to be here.”

Taking her seat at one of the picnic tables, Shannon Schays hoisted her 10-month-old son Zachary onto her lap for some light snacking.

“I come up here to exercise, and I heard about this yesterday,” she said. “My daughter wanted to come to be with her friends and her cousins.

“I would say everything,” Schays said when asked her favorite part of the event. “I like the socializing and I like the stuff for the kids.”

As she and fellow Y staff members loaded up visitors’ plates, Events Coordinator Stephanie Clark took a quick break from her impromptu table-waiting.

“We wanted our family to have Thanksgiving dinner together,” she said. “This was our first, and it won’t be our last. We’ll be having it every year, and making it better.”