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November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving dinner Monday at VFW

DUNCAN — Tina Bradshaw and Doug Gunsalus could be considered newcomers to Duncan, but they are making sure they aren’t just taking up space. Today they are busy getting a free community Thanksgiving dinner ready at the VFW.

It’s for anyone who wants to come and have a meal and be a part of the community, Bradshaw said.

About 125 to 150 volunteers are expected to help throughout the day getting food prepared and the VFW hall set up for an anticipated crowd of more than 600 people.

Bradshaw, a military wife, and Gunsalus, pastor of Heritage Oaks Church of the Nazarene, both share the vision of Duncan becoming a dream city to live in. Gunsalus and his wife moved here about six months ago; and Bradshaw’s been here awhile longer.

“When my oldest daughter was six months old, it was just her and I, and I needed help for about a year. I lived in a different community, but they helped me. And I said that whenever I got into a position to give back, I would, no matter where I lived,” Bradshaw said. She’s at that point now in her life.

In September, she began “thinking” about hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for the community. She began talking to various people, and some even scoffed, telling her she probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off. The backing she’s received so far from volunteers and area businesses has given her more faith in Duncan.

“We all live here in Duncan, which makes us all family, so to speak. If you can’t help your neighbor or the family down the street, then you are just taking up space.”

And the list of businesses helping is so long that she can’t even name them off the top of her head. She said Murf’s Guns has donated six of seven hams she has on her menu; another church has donated turkeys, bringing her count to 9; and restaurants are donating everything from green beans to disposable cutlery. Mazzio’s is even donating pizzas for the children, she said.

“The list just goes on and on. It’s fabulous.”

So how did Gunsalus and the Nazarene church get involved? He said after meeting Bradshaw and hearing about what she wanted to do, it was just a matter of helping.

“We think what she is doing is pretty special, and it makes Duncan a better place to live,” Gunsalus said. “Duncan is an incredible place to live and has great potential. We (Gunsalus family) came with high hopes of contributing to the community and helping Duncan be all it can be.”

“I got the church involved because I quickly discovered I couldn’t do it myself,” Bradshaw admits.

Each year, the VFW hosts a Thanksgiving dinner for its members and families. This year, they opted to cancel it and allow Bradshaw to be the host. The Duncan VFW has about 300 to 400 members, including the Ladies Auxiliary. Kay Hartmann, a lifetime Ladies Auxiliary member, and VFW canteen manager since 1980, is standing right beside Bradshaw on this first time undertaking.

“Everybody’s excited. They’re not sure if we can pull it off, but we’re going to show them wrong,” Hartmann, who is also known as Mama Kay, said. She’s said men have even called and offered to handle the trash that will generate throughout the day and actual dinner.

“We’re just going to serve until we run out of food,” she said. “Everybody all over town has been real supportive and giving.”

Bradshaw plans to arrive at the VFW building about 9 a.m. and expects volunteers and food to begin arriving around 10:30. She said they have so much to do, because serving starts at 3 p.m and she anticipates it to last until 7 p.m.

“I never dreamed in a million years that I’d be getting tons of calls, with people asking, ‘What do you need from us?’”

She said they still have to make all the dressing, get crockpots and slow cookers going and tables to set, among other things possibly unanticipated.

“People don’t know me, and even I was skeptical, but the support has definitely been overwhelming,” Bradshaw said. She’s not turning away food, volunteers or anyone who wants to enjoy the meal.

“I needed help and now I feel I’m in a place in my life to give back. I just wanted to give back,” she said. Her husband, Wesley who is a reservist in the Army, returned home Sunday night from Fort Hood, Texas, and will spend two days here to help. Then he’ll be gone again for two weeks, so this will be their Thanksgiving.  

Bradshaw hopes this will bring a lot of the area military families together.

“Not a lot of them are members of VFW and there are widows and widowers.” She doesn’t want to see anyone eat a holiday meal alone and hopes that even if it’s a few days early, it will help lift someone’s spirits.

“It’s very heartwarming to know people here in Duncan want to help others.”

Gunsalus agreed.

“The whole community is getting involved. I’m pleased and proud to be a part of something like that.”

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