It was a community united.
Hundreds gathered at Morgan Mill school Friday for the school district's annual Thanksgiving Feast, which has invited current and former Erath County residents to break bread together for about two decades. Making the event complete was a more recently established tradition - inviting soldiers from Fort Hood to break bread with residents.
Morgan Mill ISD Superintendent Dean Edwards said the feast, which once welcomed about 150 guests to take part in the traditional Thanksgiving menu, welcomed more than 800 individuals last year. And this year's turnout may have been the biggest yet.
Edwards said like the crowd, the idea behind the event has also grown over the years. He said in the early days, attendees were primarily parents and others who lived in the close-knit community, and the event was simply a way to say thanks and take part in fellowship.
Today, as the school says thanks, the faculty works to instill life-long lessons in a group of about 100 students. Edwards said students get a lesson in public relations skills as they invite elected officials and other "dignitaries" to take part in the event.
On Friday, Erath County officials, business leaders, Tarleton State University students, administrators and professors, farmers and ranchers and representatives from every walk of life packed into the gym, happy to accept the invitation.
Community service and working with their resources are two more lessons the students receive, according to Edwards.
"These junior high students have no resources, but none of this would be possible without their effort," Edwards said.
And the invitation to the men and women of the United States Army was also gladly accepted. Dozens of soldiers outfitted in fatigues pulled up a chair and learned a thing or two about life in rural America. For the soldiers from big cities as far away as Los Angeles and New York, the event was easily called "something different."
For some of the soldiers, part of learning the rural ropes included a trip out to Ken Stokes' ranch, where they fed cattle and enjoyed the serene setting which seemed to be a world away from Fort Hood.
"This is a rare treat, something I could get used to," Specialist Jason Newingham said.
Specialist Jarrett Palmatier, who said he is from Port Charlotte, Fla., said he took a quick liking to the small-town environment and togetherness found in the community united.
"I am glad I was given this opportunity," Palmatier said.
Mariah Lake, a rookie to the ranks who said she joined the Army about seven months ago, said she jumped at the opportunity to enjoy lunchtime with the school kids. She said she had no idea where she was going when the caravan left Fort Hood for Morgan Mill, but she said tons of fun greeted the military personnel as the children greeted them as they entered the school yard.
The meal itself, which consisted of about 50 turkeys roasted by Morgan Mill students and faculty, dressing and gravy, sweet potatoes, corn, green beans, breads and array of homemade desserts, was served by a line of students who greeted the crowd with eager smiles.
"I have never known a child who did not want be a part of the feast," Edwards said.
When asked about the mass amount of food served up by the students, Edwards said many Morgan Mill families and businesses and organizations from across the county make it all possible. He said he begins making calls to donors in July and works through the first two six weeks of the school year to bring everything together in time for the event.
"It takes a lot of support to make the feast come together," Edwards said, adding that the effort was worth every minute as everyone unites around the dinner tables.