The skies had darkened over Summit Villas, one of Brooksville's public housing projects, when a small army of volunteers fanned out, armed with boxes filled with turkey dinners.
Tailing them was JoAnn Munford, a south Brooksville community leader, who for nearly 20 years has helped organize an annual free community Thanksgiving dinner at the Jerome Brown Community Center.
Cradling armloads of plastic foam boxes filled with food, Munford and her volunteers spent nearly two hours Monday evening knocking on doors of low-income housing developments.
"God bless all of you," came the greeting from an elderly woman leaning near her door on a walker. Others greeted Munford with hugs and kisses.
For Munford, who runs the Jesus and Me Ministry in Brooksville, the community feast is always a heartening experience. But bringing the comfort of a simple hot meal to more than 100 shut-ins and others lacking transportation to attend the big feast at the center is what makes the venture special for her.
"There's people out there that need to eat," Munford said as she climbed aboard a church bus to go back to the center. "If this can make a small difference in their lives, it's well worth it."
Seated at long tables, guests were already digging into the dinner of turkey, dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberries and pumpkin pie by the time Munford and her volunteers got back to the Jerome Brown Center. Before the night was finished, more than 600 meals would be served.
"I come every year and have a great time," said Brooksville resident Rhea Morton, 62. "It's nice to see so many families here."
Originally held at the Hillside Estates public housing complex, organizers of the community dinner elected in 2000 to move the event to the Jerome Brown Center, where Munford was director.
Munford says that while she has always enjoyed organizing the dinner, it could be a draining experience in that the responsibility for procuring food donations and organizing volunteers fell on her shoulders.
But in 2004, Munford got a call from Pastor John Hensel of the Christian Life Assembly of God in Spring Hill with an offer of help.
"We had been wanting to do something similar at our church for some time, so we asked JoAnn if we could team up," Hensel said.
Since then, the joint effort has worked well. About 150 volunteers help set up tables, serve food and contribute to cleanup efforts afterward. In addition, the church provides food donations and arranges for entertainment.
Hensel said the dinner does more than just provide a meal; it provides fellowship for people who don't have family to be with during the Thanksgiving holiday.
"You look around and you see people eating and talking with people they didn't know before they walked inside," Hensel said. "That's an amazing thing to me."
For Munford, the smiles on the faces she sees every year make the hard work well worth the effort. All of which, she says, is why the community dinner is the perfect way to celebrate the holiday.
"It's what Thanksgiving is truly all about," Munford said. "People want to help one another by sharing and giving of themselves to their community."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.