Sunday, November 8, 2009

Thankful for friends, old and new


Rachael Ray is shown Sunday welcoming guests to her Thanksgiving dinner at the Roberts Centre in Wilmington. (News Journal Photo/Scott Stolsenberg)
Thankful for friends, old and new

Assistant Editor

t was a “gobbly delicious” time at the Roberts Centre Sunday afternoon when “The Rachael Ray Show” hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for an estimated 2,000 Wilmington residents facing tough economic times.

“Doesn’t everything look gobbly delicious?” Ray asked the crowd prior to dinner. “The food looks absolutely amazing, and I know you’re hungry.”

And the crowd needed to be hungry to polish off the 900 pounds of turkey, 700 pounds each of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, and 400 pounds of green beans. Dinner was rounded out with stuffing, brussels sprouts, gravy and, of course, pumpkin pie.

The show had worked for approximately two weeks preparing the dining room, constructing scarecrows, a pumpkin patch with a miniature hay wagon, and draping dozens of tables in the orange, gold and crimson colors of fall, with fruits and vegetables in the candle-lit centerpieces.

Looking around the Roberts Centre dining room Ray said that designer Kahi Lee had created, “A feast for your eyes before the stomach.”

Ticket-holders, who had pre-registered for the opportunity to participate in the dinner, began standing in line around 10 a.m. Sunday for the event that began around 2 p.m.

Ray told the crowd that this Thanksgiving dinner was a time to reflect on what each person was thankful for, and that she was thankful for the food, and thankful to have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the people of Wilmington.

“I am really thankful to make my living in food,” Ray said. “Food is a great communicator.”

Each year, Ray said, her production team looks for a community where the Emmy Award-winning talk show can go in and make a difference as a community service project.

“Wilmington is truly what we are thankful for this season,” Ray said. “You are the kind of people who come together and support each other. Tough times really seem to bring out the best in us. We all have so much to be thankful for. We all have each other.”

Singer and Cincinnati native Nick Lachey told diners he was proud to announce that the Bengals had beaten the Baltimore Ravens 17-4.

“I want to hear the biggest ‘Who-Dey’ you ever heard in your life,” Lachey said to the cheering crowd.

Lachey said he was happy to share Sunday’s dinner with his father, stepmother and brother, and that family is something that is very important to him.

“I have seen you all be the best example of a family,” Lachey said.

When facing tough times, Lachey said, people have two choices, “to give up, give in, or rally around each other. You are each other’s family. It says a lot about the people you are the way you rally around one another.”

Families joined together Sunday as they sat down to dinner, many arriving as strangers, but leaving as friends.

Friends Bruce Dexter and Rick Moreton lost their jobs at ABX in May and are still looking for work. They and their family members were seated for dinner with Andrea Brown and her family, who also recently lost her job at ABX.

“It’s nice to know that someone out there cares,” Brown said. “We were already a close community, but this is a nice way to bring us a little closer together.”

Moreton said, “You run into people while you’re out in town or at a football game, but you don’t always know them. Now, we’re getting to know them.”

Concluding the meal, Ray and Lachey introduced two surprise musical guests. The Wilmington High School show choir the Wilmingtones had received a visit and some coaching earlier in the week from Lachey who said, “I have been blessed to travel around the world and work with some very talented people. And you have some very talented people here in Wilmington.” The Wilmingtones performed “Eye of the Tiger” and ABBA’s “I Have a Dream.”

Ray then introduced surprise musical guests The Fray, who performed four songs, including the Grammy Award-nominated “How To Save A Life.”

Lead singer and piano player Isaac Slade asked the crowd to leave their seats and gather around the stage. Slade said that prior to their performance, they had an opportunity to walk around the town and enjoy the day.

“This is a good city,” Slade said. “You have beautiful buildings, beautiful churches. Thanks for letting us be part of today.”

In the conclusion of the event, members of the Wilmington community were allowed on stage to say what they were thankful for this year.

Many people said they were most thankful for their families, and for having a strong community to help hold them up when times were tough.

Allen Willoughby, director of Sugartree Ministries, whose food pantry Your Father’s Kitchen received a makeover and a year’s stock of food courtesy of Sara Lee and “The Rachael Ray Show,” said he was thankful that now more people could receive the benefits of the ministry.

“I am so thankful to God,” Willoughby said, and the show for “making it possible for us to serve two to three times as many people as we have been able to serve.”

Wilmington Mayor David Raizk told the News Journal having “The Rachael Ray Show” has been a good morale boost for the city.

“This is absolutely fabulous,” Raizk said. “It’s one thing to do a dinner, but this is a Thanksgiving that anyone would be proud to attend, and the spirit is for everyone. They recognized this is a community of character. Look around … Rachael has invited us into her home.”