Twitter @Valerie Rowell
The highlight of the Harlem Military Thanksgiving feast for U.S. Army Pvt. First Class Matthew Stamp was eating the chocolate cake he smeared with peanut butter pie.
Stamp, 18, and his friend, Pvt. First Class Jason Leovan, 19, attended the ninth annual event on Tuesday at Harlem Baptist Church, looking forward to the Southern-style macaroni and cheese.
“That’s why we came today, was for the mac and cheese,” said Leovan, who calls Minnesota home.
Thanksgiving is the first significant holiday the pair will be celebrating without family, and they agreed the home-cooked meal made them feel more at home.
“This is the (furthest) I’ve been away from home for the holidays,” said Stamp, a New Yorker. “It’s nice to get away from the base, come here with all the soldiers and just relax.”
About 175 Fort Gordon soldiers attended the event intended to give them a taste of home and thank them for their service. It is put on by Columbia County Community Connections and volunteers primarily from Harlem.
Many of the soldiers enjoying the Thanksgiving feast won’t be visiting home for the holiday.
“We’re so thankful for your service,” Andre Miller, who gave the invocation, told the soldiers. “We’re so grateful for what you do in serving us, protecting us. ... This is one small way that we’ll be able to thank you; with a good meal.”
Pvt. Jose David Peraza Mejias, 21, whose family lives in Virginia and South Carolina, said that with recent off-base happenings he was a little nervous about attending. But making the trip was worth it, he said after enjoying a big meal and dessert.
“I heard there was going to be a Thanksgiving thing here,” said Peraza Mejias, who joined the Army in March. “I had no idea this community was this proactive. ... The love that people share for us.”
Peraza Mejias is lucky. His family is coming to see him for Thanksgiving.
Pvt. Megan Bollen, 19, said she, too, is an exception. She’ll be spending the three-day Thanksgiving holiday with her family in Rome, Ga.
“I am very lucky,” Bollen said, adding that the meal and camaraderie were a welcome break. “I definitely enjoyed it.”