COLUMBIA — Last year, Eric Dover, Athena Metropoulos and their 2-year-old son, Christopher Dover, spent Thanksgiving Day at Denny's.
They didn't even have turkey, Eric Dover said.
This year, they had plenty of turkey at the Everyone Eats Thanksgiving meal in Stamper Commons at Stephens College.
Founded and organized by former First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton, Everyone Eats has been serving the people of Columbia for 15 years.
Everything was ready on the buffet line when the doors opened shortly before 11 a.m. For Mike Penning and other guests, the meal has become an annual tradition with food that doesn't disappoint.
"The turkey was really excellent. It was juicy and cooked just the way it should be," Penning said.
While people walked through the line to fill their plates with the staples of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, Bobby Pezold was keeping a tally of how many were fed this year.
Pezold reported that 411 people were served dinner, made up of about 50 turkeys and 20 hams, stuffing, vegetables and plenty of desserts.
"The economy's a lot worse this year than last year, so there's a lot of people who can use a meal," said Pezold, one of 60 volunteers.
Damien Doxley, with his 4-month-old son Dacian in his arms, came to Stamper Commons to look for his uncle. Doxley left Columbia in 2008 and now lives in Jefferson City.
"Ever since I was young, I knew Almeta was doing this," Doxley said.
Music was provided by DJ Curtis "Boogieman" Soul who, at one point, stopped the music to recognize Crayton for her efforts.
"Your name is worth more than silver and equal to gold," Soul said.
In their second year volunteering together as a family, Michelle Fry sat down to share a meal with her two daughters, Maddison and Errika.
"It teaches them that they need to be thankful because there are people out there who don't have as much as they do," Michelle Fry said.
"I'm a single parent, so it feels good to help people who are struggling because I've been there."
For many, the meal was a quick stop on a day filled with activity and tradition.
After finishing his meal, Ricky Williams walked back to the food line to pick up a to-go plate for his friend at home.
"If it weren't for places like this some people wouldn't have anywhere to go," said Williams, a first-time visitor and Columbia resident.
William Orvil of Columbia arrived at Stamper Commons early to grab dinner before heading to St. Francis House to prepare and serve food at the shelter.
Dover and Metropoulos planned to take their son to the park, then watch the Dallas Cowboys-Washington Redskins game in the afternoon.
This is the third time Scott Thorn, 18, and his brother Tyler Thorn, 17, came to Crayton's Thanksgiving meal with their stepfather, Keith Lewis.
Volunteers began to clean up and head home when the crowd began to thin out about 2 p.m.
"See you next year, Almeta," a couple of volunteers said before they left.
Crayton responded with a smile and a nod.