Diana Bowlby smiled as she took another bite of chocolate pie.

“I didn’t have anywhere to go this Thanksgiving — I wish I did, but I don’t,” the Ottawa woman said as she dined with dozens of other local residents at a free community Thanksgiving dinner Friday in the basement of the North Baptist Church, 413 E. Wilson St., Ottawa. “This is wonderful.”

Bowlby’s sentiments were expressed by others at the dinner, Kim Wilcox, North Baptist Church pastor, said.

Wilcox said organizers wanted to ensure everyone in the community had a good Thanksgiving meal. “We wanted to meet the community’s needs,” Wilcox said. 

Members of about a dozen churches came together to help with the event, Linda Sears, North Baptist member and the meal’s lead coordinator, said. The outpouring of food was tremendous, she said.

The meal included 28 turkeys, 320 pounds of potatoes, 48 gallons of green beans, 150 pounds of corn, 90 dozen rolls and about 80 pies, Sears and Wilcox said.

A small army of volunteers came together to prepare and serve the food.

While the turkeys had been precooked and some other portions of the meal had been prepared in advance, much of it — stuffing, green beans, sweet potatoes, corn and other items — were prepared that day, Sears said.

“We got here at 8:30 this morning, and there have been people here nonstop since then,” Sears said about 4 p.m. Friday. “We planned for 750 people.”

About 100 people had shown up to eat in the first hour of the meal — between 3 and 4 p.m. — with hundreds more expected to turn out by the end of the meal at 7 p.m., organizers said.

“We are pleased with the turnout, and it’s pretty early,” Wilcox said late Friday afternoon. “We get a lull, and then we get a whole new group in.”

Community members were treated to piano music in the church’s sanctuary while they waited for an open table downstairs.

A group of ladies who already had eaten came back just to listen to the music, volunteer Julia Privett said as she greeted people at the door and directed them inside.

“It was very, very good,” Becky Beers, Ottawa, said of the meal. “The turkey was tender and juicy. I think this [community dinner] was a good idea.”

The Ottawa Ministers Association planned the free community Thanksgiving dinner to coincide with North Baptist Church’s Free Food Fourth Friday, which the church regularly serves on the fourth Friday of each month. The free meal is open to anyone in the community, pastor Wilcox said. The church typically serves 175 to 250 people during its Fourth Friday meals, Wilcox said. North Baptist has been offering the meals for the past two years.

Friday’s Thanksgiving dinner might fill a void left by the hiatus of the annual community Thanksgiving dinner at Ottawa Middle School, which had fed as many as 1,000 people each year for the past decade. The school discontinued the meal last fall after some “key people” could not help with the annual dinner, according to Herald archives.

Wilcox said in an earlier interview the discontinuance of the OMS dinner was not the prime motivation for sponsoring this Thanksgiving dinner.

“We were already doing the Free Food Fourth Friday, so this provided a good opportunity to turn it into a community Thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

Dale Wilson, Ottawa, said the meal provided a chance for the community to come together.

“Everything about this was nice,” Wilson said. “I liked the whole thing.”

Linda Miller agreed with Wilson.

“I’ve seen people here that I haven’t seen all year,” Miller said. “And the meal was really good.”

Wilcox said camaraderie was an important part of the dinner.

“This is about food, fun and fellowship,” the pastor said.

Anthony Conner, a sophomore at Ottawa High School, was helping serve the meal with some other members of the Bethany Chapel Baptist Church, 135 S. Poplar St., Ottawa.

“I’m here with some other members of my church,” Conner said. “I’ve had a good time talking with everyone. I like helping out other people.”

Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com