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Throwback Thursday: When service means serving someone else a meal

Next Thursday will mark 28 years that those who need a meal, some company or a reminder have gathered on Thanksgiving at St. Luke’s Parish Center in Belleville.

That reminder comes when parents haul their kids to the meal to show them why they should be thankful as well as why service to others matters. Joe Hubbard, president of the St. Vincent De Paul Society Council, said it is important for youngsters to learn that their lives can be fixed when they help their neighbors.

“The problem is we get overwhelmed at Thanksgiving and Christmas with volunteers and it would be nice to spread it out through the year when all the needs are still there,” he said.

Yet he said there will be volunteer jobs for all who come because the meal is as much about fostering service as it is about caring for those who need to be served.

The meal is hosted by the St. Vincent DePaul Youth Conference, with local Catholic churches donating the turkeys, dressing and other parts of the meal. For decades those at the meal have remarked about the festival of desserts — homemade pies and cakes and goodies from the parish members’ kitchens.

When our reporter visited the meal in 1988 there were 60 in attendance. In 2006 there were 700 meals served to those at the hall and delivered to homes. Hubbard said the count hit 1,400 last year.

The 1988 meal found Paralee Wilkerson of Belleville, who said she and her two children might not have had Thanksgiving were it not for the St. Luke’s meal.

“I don’t get my check until the 28th,” she said as she wiped crumbs from her daughter’s face. “Plus we don’t have anything at home. We’re so grateful this place is here for us.”

Also in our Thanksgiving Day 1988 coverage was the interdenominational service that packed St. Paul United Church of Christ in Belleville. Bishop James P. Keleher delivered the sermon at the service, sponsored by the Belleville Area Clergy Association.

For more photos, that day’s newspaper and other episodes of Throwback Thursday, visit us at