Mary and Matthew Green arrived from Boise, Idaho, a month ago in hopes of better economic opportunities, but they knew no one in the Dayton region.

Mary and Matthew Green arrived from Boise, Idaho, a month ago in hopes of better economic opportunities, but they knew no one in the Dayton region.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Clayton couple found a home of sorts as they and thousands of others crowded into the Dayton Convention Center for the annual Feast of Giving dinner.

“We didn’t have any food to cook for dinner,” said Mary E. Green, 37. “It’s just been really rough.”

At the community gathering, the welcome mat was out, said Matthew C. Green, 38, a flatbed truck driver.

“They’re really happy to see people here,” he said. “It gives you a comfortable feeling.”

About 10,000 people were expected to attend the event, which organizer Michael Shane believes makes it one of the largest free community dinners in the nation. Hundreds were already eating by the official start time Thursday morning.

“I’ve never seen this many come in before it was 11 o’clock,” said Anthony B. Whitmore, a Feast of Giving organizer and greeter. He alternately welcomed people, many with a hearty handshake and faces recognized from years past, and ushered meal-goers to step in line for turkey, dinner rolls and pie.

Everyone was welcome, organizers said, from families to the homeless, young and old. “It’s the one time that people come together ethnically and culturally,” Whitmore said.

“There’s no difference in economic status here,” said Dr. Stephen Levitt, a Feast of Giving organizer and a dermatologist. Multiple sponsors and more than 500 volunteers make the event a reality.

Each attendee had the chance to receive a winter cap and gloves to ward off the sub-freezing November chill.

Steven C. Jones II, 22, and his brother, Charles E. Jones, 19, both of Dayton, joined the Convention Center crowd in what’s become a family tradition.

“I’ve been coming to this event since I was a little kid,” Charles Jones said. “I like that good people can come and have a great meal in a warm, comfortable environment without having stress.”

A crew of six full-time cooks and 20 or so volunteers spent days preparing the meal, chef John Reice said.

“We came in at 2:30 this morning and then just started rocking,” he said Thursday, expecting a 15-hour shift.

The menu included 2,617 pounds of turkey, 2,000 pounds each of mashed potatoes and stuffing, 100 gallons of gravy, 800 pounds of coleslaw, 10,000 dinner rolls and 1,200 pies, he said.

The amount of food was bumped up this year about 20 percent after 8,700 people turned out last Thanksgiving, Shane said, and organizers were concerned they might run out of food.

“Last year we were scraping the bottom of the plate,” he said. “We came right at the edge. We don’t want to run out.”

Any food left over will go to organizations such as the House of Bread in Dayton. The non-profit serves lunch 365 days a year.

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©2013 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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