BLOOMINGTON — Sara Mathes, wearing a paper American Indian headdress, walked to the front of Grace Hall on Thursday and began dancing to the music of country gospel vocalist Eric Gordon as 160 people finished their lunch.
“I like music and dancing,” the 24-year-old Normal woman explained. She also enjoyed the food and visiting with friends.
Mathes, who has a developmental disability, created the headdress for the occasion. “I made it,” she said proudly.
The occasion, in Second Presbyterian Church’s Grace Hall, was Thanksgiving with Friends, a party for 100 people with developmental disabilities.
Hosted by the church and Bloomington Rotary Club, the event included a meal prepared by Chef Paul Stroup and four students of the church’s Academy of Culinary Arts, which teaches homeless people the art of cooking to reintroduce them to a working environment.
Sixty volunteers from the church and Rotary Club welcomed the guests, served them food and drinks and cleared tables. Among volunteers was Meng Horng, a Rotarian since 1977. He said the event is consistent with Rotary’s motto.
“Service Above Self — service to anyone who needs assistance to make society better,” said Horng, a retired Bloomington obstetrician/gynecologist.
Rotary Club member Lyn Hruska, chairwoman of the third annual event, said it began after Occupational Development Center closed in 2009. ODC provided employment and training for people with disabilities and had an annual Thanksgiving meal.
The guests receive services at Marcfirst, which provides help to people with disabilities, or are members of FriendsFirst, which offers social activities for the developmentally disabled twice a week at the church. Bloomington Rotary also meets at Second Presbyterian and decided to co-host the party.
“We’re all highly aware of services cut and lost and we saw an opportunity as a club to fill a gap,” said Hruska, executive director of the American Red Cross of the Heartland.
“I like the cranberry, the green bean casserole, the turkey, the potatoes with gravy and the dessert,” said Kim Daniels, 41, of Normal, and a member of FriendsFirst. She also liked “talking with friends.”
“This is a very diverse group,” said Sarah Metivier of Bloomington, a church member who volunteers at FriendsFirst once a week with her son Bradley, 4. “This is a celebration of Thanksgiving and a celebration of that (diversity) as well.”
“Celebrating together — I like that idea,” said FriendsFirst member Tim Welch, 37, of Bloomington, who has befriended Sarah and Bradley.
The Rev. Chip Hardwick, Second Presbyterian pastor, noted that homeless people prepared the meal and many guests with disabilities brought canned goods for Home Sweet Home Ministries and signed holiday greeting cards for troops serving overseas before being served by community leaders.
“Everyone is fully participating — people at all levels of society,” Hardwick said. “Everyone is valued. Everyone is serving.
“This is the world God wants it to be. This is a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.”
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