By PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — The Rhino Room on Gervais Street was busy on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, almost like a Friday night. Yet co-owners Mike Fusco Jr. and his father were up early the next morning for another busy day. Only this time they didn’t make any money for their work.
The Fusco men were among the hundreds of volunteers who helped out at the annual Thanksgiving Feast at the Carolina Coliseum, co-sponsored by St. Peter Church and First Baptist Church. Their job was to carve and serve dozens and dozens of turkeys. And like the other volunteers, they made light of their contribution.
“It’s easy for us. We have all this stuff,” said the younger Fusco of Our Lady of the Hills Parish, pointing to carving boards, knives and baking pans. “And this is the work we do.”
He said that the real work was done earlier in the week when Trent Grant and Annie Howell cooked 50 turkeys for the big dinner on their own time. Mike Fusco Sr. agreed, saying that the Fuscos “play a small part.” Tina Blocker, who was co-chair of the event for the past eight years, disagreed: “There is no way we could have done this without them.” Robert Keeder from St. Peter, the other co-chair, said that commercial contributions like that from the Rhino Room were major players in the success of the banquet.
Keeder cited Wendy’s, who donated all the paper products used, and Dianne’s Restaurant, who donated 100 hams.
“And look at Bojangles. They not only donated 1,000 biscuits for the meals, they get to work at 4 a.m. to bake them fresh for us today and deliver them,” Keeder said.
Every platter gets a biscuit, and all of them are served. It takes hundreds of benefactors to support the annual dinner, according to Keeder, and the work of coordinating them all starts in September. Every year since the dinner for the needy began, something new has been added, as demand and popularity grow. This year, there was a balloon-maker entertaining guests, a patriotic theme with flags everywhere, and a guitarist leading the diners in “God Bless America.”
Keeder’s committee also initiated an “Adopt-a-Turkey” campaign this year. For a $10 donation, contributors could buy one of the hundreds of turkeys served at the dinner. In addition to more than 300 checks for adopting turkeys, the dinner committee also received $500 from Bob Brandi and free advertising in his chain of Pit Stop stores. Still, there was much more to this year’s feast than the usual outpouring of concern for the needy.
“It’s easy for all the volunteers to get caught up in the doings of the annual meal, but it behooves us as Americans to remember to be grateful for our gifts,” Keeder said. “We must remember the thousands who won’t be here for Thanksgiving, including the people who died on Sept. 11 and the soldiers in Afghanistan.”
The annual ecumenical Thanksgiving Day Dinner of 2001 began with a moment of silence.