One young man eyes a table of goodies at the Nyssa Nazarene Church's free Thanksgiving dinner Sunday. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon).

NYSSA – Thanksgiving came early in Nyssa, where one church served a free Thanksgiving meal last Sunday.

The Nyssa Nazarene Church made sure residents and church members in had a proper meal for the holidays. Dozens of church members and volunteers came together to serve others – a heartfelt deed that’s a yearly tradition.

“We do this just about every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving,” said George Lincoln, a pastor at the church.

Lincoln said all the food dishes were contributed by members of the church community, and it’s a popular event.

“Everybody turns out for this,” he said, as he welcomed attendees to the vast spread. “I wish I had this many people coming to my congregation each week!”

Lincoln said it’s an important event for residents who don’t have family nearby or at all.

“It’s like a warm up to the real Thanksgiving,” he said. “Everyone’s welcome. It brings everyone together.”

More than 50 people helped themselves to warm turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, salads, stuffing, roasted vegetables, yam casseroles, slices of juicy ham, cornbread and dinner rolls -- all brought in by members of the community. A separate table showed off a delicious array of pies, pumpkin bars, cheesecake, cookies and whipped cream.

One Ontario resident, Tammy Rahnasto, was enjoying her hot meal. She attends the church, and for her, the Sunday lunch gathering was more than just a meal.

“It’s a very thoughtful thing that they do for the community. This lunch brings all of us together in a social environment, which we don’t really have the opportunity to talk to each other because we’re usually all so busy,” said Rahnasto, who assists adults with developmental disabilities in Eastern Oregon. “Without this community, where would we be?”

Nyssa resident Debbie Van Zelf said she appreciates how giving the community can be.

“I think all of us really enjoy when people come out and do these nice things together,” she said.

The Nazarene Church also houses the city’s only food pantry, which gave away free turkeys along with a Thanksgiving food box to 100 Nyssa and Adrian residents.

“It means a lot to us to be able to help out, especially this time of year during Thanksgiving,” said Kathy Oliver, food pantry manager and a member of the church.

She said although it’s a faith-based nonprofit, “we certainly do not push our beliefs and ways onto others. It’s an equal opportunity place.”

Oliver said she took over the food pantry 12 years ago when the previous manager died of cancer. She said the number of people signing up for the pantry has grown over the years, as well as the number of volunteers that come in to help.

“A lot of people in this community don’t have the opportunity to have a home-cooked meal, so it’s a way for us to help them out,” she said. “My volunteers are just so awesome. They’re the backbone of this pantry and this community.”