Community feast: 1621 style

Joseph Pratt

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Thanksgiving isn’t about the latest Pinterest recipe or an expensive bottle of wine. It isn’t about gathering for a game plan to tackle the shopping holidays, either. It is much deeper than what modern marketing has made it out to be, but some community members understand this and hold true to the classic celebration.

Thanksgiving began in 1621, when Native Americans and settlers worked together to plan a three-day feast of deer and many harvest foods. It was spent elbow-to-elbow and celebrating life, all while tensions were high.

Thanksgiving is about coming together in celebration of what we have and giving thanks where it is needed.

Like the partnerships of the original Thanksgiving, local churches have, for 20 years, worked closely together to plan a community Thanksgiving feast that is free and open to anyone who walks in the doors.

Organizer RL Mohl stated that he has been involved in the service project for many years and looks forward to it every year.

When asked why he helps out every Thanksgiving, Mohl laughed, saying it was simple, “It is just the sort of thing you do for your community.”

Mohl said this year was bittersweet, because declining health has caused him to train other volunteers to take over.

“I think this will be my last year, so I’ve helped others learn where things are, record who our sponsors typically are, understand where we post signs for highest traffic, and that sort of thing,” Mohl explained.

Mohl said everything is important while planning the dinner and it takes many hands to make it possible.

“We even have people from out of town. Last year, we had people from Connecticut and Virginia stop by, because we had the signs in the gas stations,” Mohl explained. “Everyone is welcome, especially because restaurants are often closed. We told gas stations to let travelers know a free meal is waiting anyone who needs one in Portsmouth, and they came.”

According to Mohl, the guests vary each year, but it is always in the hundreds. The Holy Redeemer Activity Center, which was host to the feast this year, had people lining up half an hour early, so they started earlier than expected.

Mohl explained that many people help, from the donors, such as Bob Evans and Shawnee State University, to the volunteers.

This year, a fleet of Greenup County High School students even participated, after hearing about the dinner.

“These high school kids saw a poster at a gas station in Greenup and wanted to help. There wasn’t a thing you could ask these students that they wouldn’t help with,” Mohl explained. “It was a beautiful thing to see. Their participation is example of what it means to host a community meal. We don’t stop at the river. We don’t stop at state lines. Anyone passing through, or living anywhere else, can help and eat; that is community.”

So, as locals and travelers met and ate under the roof of Holy Redeemer, they all had a small insight to the elbow-to-elbow celebrations first experienced by the community of 1621. They ate, and drank, and continued a 394-year-old tradition that will be kept alive, thanks to people like RL Mohl and dedicated volunteers who work together to support community.

Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.

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Joseph Pratt | Daily Times RL Mohl, standing center, about to sit with friends and enjoy a plate of food during the community dinner. Pratt | Daily Times RL Mohl, standing center, about to sit with friends and enjoy a plate of food during the community dinner.