As her daughter licked the last of the icing off a chocolate cupcake, Truly Ruffin and her husband, Antonio, watched their six other children as they zoomed around the room Thursday, playing with new friends and singing along to Christmas music.
They were among the hundreds of Fort Wayne residents Thursday to receive a free Thanksgiving meal and fellowship provided by local organizations.
For most of the noon meal time, lines remained busy inside St. Marys Catholic Church and the Rescue Mission as volunteers busily served meals.
The Ruffin children – seven in all – range in age from 1 to 8, Truly said. Keeping all of those hungry mouths fed, especially during the holiday season, can be quite a challenge, she said.
Usually, the Ruffin family spends Thanksgiving at home or with relatives, but this year, Antonio spotted a flier at St. Marys Soup Kitchen for its annual meal, and they decided to try something new.
This is such a blessing, Truly said, motioning to the empty plates left on the table where her family had just finished their Thanksgiving meal at St. Marys Catholic Church. Everything was real good, and its such a blessing to us. With the kids growing, they eat a lot.
In all, more than 3,900 people received a free meal on Thursday, according to estimates from both groups.
The free meals come at the perfect time for some Fort Wayne families as the cost for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Indiana – including turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and other tasty treats – has increased slightly again this year, according to a survey of grocery store prices.
The Indiana Farm Bureau has tracked Thanksgiving meal prices annually since 1993, when the cost of a 10-person meal was $29.50. According to the survey, the cost for this years feast for 10 is $50.99 compared with $49.38 in 2011. That averages out to $5 a person.
But for some, even $5 might not be affordable.
Hungry visitors began lining up at the church at 9:30 a.m., said Patrick McBride, the dinners chairman.
The meal started at 11 a.m. and was expected to end at 1 p.m., but shortly after noon, the line still stretched through the building.
By the time the sit-down meal was ending and takeout was to begin, McBride estimated they had served about 850 plates of food – nearly 100 more than last year. And that number doesnt include the more than 700 takeout meals distributed Thursday afternoon, he added.
McBride said although the Thanksgiving meal is paid for through donations, each meal costs about $2.50 a person.
Just a few blocks away, the Rescue Mission welcomed about 2,400 guests, filling plates high with Thanksgiving treats such as cranberry salad, garlic mashed potatoes and of course, plenty of turkey.
The Rev. Donovan Coley greeted visitors at the door shortly after 1 p.m.
It was a real rush at the beginning, but its starting to slow down some now, Coley said.
Coley said the majority of meals this year have been carry-out, with people picking up several bags of food and returning home to share with family and friends.
Gary Griffiths, 55, decided to dine in Thursday, as he has for 14 years.
My cousin was homeless, and he came to stay here, and he told me if I ever got to be homeless, thats a good place to go, Griffiths said. I told him, Sounds good and thought I never would, but I did. I needed a place to stay.
Since then, Griffiths has found a place to call home and is back on his feet, but he still returned Thursday for the annual meal.
My cousin, he was right, Griffiths said, pulling apart a piece of his roll and dunking it into some leftover gravy. Its a good place.