Christy Martin and her family were relatively new to the Stevensville community last year.
Both she and her husband grew up in large families who would come together every Thanksgiving to enjoy each other’s company and a good meal.
They knew that was something they were going to miss.
“We don’t have any family here,” Martin said. “Last year, it felt like it was going to be a little bit empty. … We came up with the idea that maybe we could make a new family here while instilling a sense in our kids that giving back is much better than receiving.”
And so they decided to take a chance and reach out to the school, local businesses and others to put together a Community Thanksgiving Dinner that would be open to anyone who wanted to come.
What happened surpassed their greatest expectations.
Close to 150 people came to the dinner at Stevensville’s school cafeteria. They also packaged up meals for elderly shut-ins, donated food to a halfway house for women and donated everything left over, including monetary donations, to the Stevensville Food Pantry.
“It was incredible last year,” Martin said. “We had at least 20 people volunteer to help set up, greet people and serve. All in all, I think there were about 40 people there to help with everything.”
Many of those who came to help offered their thanks afterward.
“The volunteers all seemed to be really thankful,” she said. “Some were new empty nesters who weren’t sure how they were going to fill the holiday. They were thankful for the opportunity to fill their hearts and fill their bellies. There were single parents who wanted to get their kids involved with helping others. Members of the Amish community came to help.”
Those who came for the meal found a community anxious to share their holiday with them.
“There were tons of people who wanted to come to get to know our community,” Martin said. “Many came because they didn’t have a family here. They found a family waiting to share a meal with them. Some senior citizens came for that social interaction that we all crave. I think the meal helped them realize that they’re not forgotten and that Stevensville was still a special place for them to be.”
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Martin hopes to build on last year’s success with this year’s Stevensville Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
People in Stevensville and beyond are already responding.
Stevensville’s CJ’s Den Restaurant and the Super One grocery store have donated much of the food this year’s dinner will require. On Monday morning Montana Rail Link called Martin to say the company will be sending a donation.
Martin planned to go through her checklist for food Monday night. Right now, she could use some help from the community on desserts. Anyone interested in helping out can send her an email at email@example.com.
“I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that my food spreadsheet will show that I’ve got all the main dishes covered,” she said.
The Stevensville Community Thanksgiving Dinner Facebook page has a place where people can sign up to volunteer on the day of the event. If people aren’t on Facebook, they can either email Martin or give her a call at 1-817-372-3101.
On Monday, Martin said they could use some help from volunteers willing to serve people from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and help with the cleanup. They also need a couple of people to give rides to those who couldn’t attend the dinner without that help.
The dinner is free and open to anyone who would like to attend. Dinner will be served from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Stevensville School District school cafeteria at 300 Park St.
In this year’s invitation, Martin wrote: “Please join us; whether you are single, divorced, married, widowed/widower, large or small families or newly transplanted to the area. …This is a free event for those who wish to spend the holiday with their community family.”
Martin said it was wonderful to see the community come together last year and she’s looking forward to seeing it happen again.
“There is a need for this,” she said. “I feel like if more people in our community, state and country would work together to help those in need and find ways to bring the community together, all of us would be a lot better off.
“It fills my heart watching other people’s hearts be filled,” Martin said.