Once again, Thanksgiving is coming a little early for Morgan Mill students and community members. Friday is the annual Thanksgiving Dinner from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“We call it our Thanksgiving Dinner, and that’s confusing to some,” said Morgan Mill Superintendent Dean Edwards. “But in Texas, we eat dinner at noon.”

As in years past, the dinner is free and open to the public. Continuing a tradition started last year, soldiers from Fort Hood have been invited to attend.

The annual event has been a growing tradition for many years. It began taking on a life of its own more than 10 years ago. This year, they are again expecting a large crowd.

“We had 700 people last year and I’m expecting at least that many this year,” Edwards said.

They have decided to move the dinner into the school gymnasium and are expanding to three serving lines, instead of two.

Erath County Sheriff’s officers will help direct parking and students will help serve visitors. Forty-two turkeys are being prepared for the mammoth feast.

“It’s a free, home-cooked meal. It’s not canned. This is something the school gets donated or sponsored every year,” Edwards said.

Preparations begin during the summer, usually the day after the 4th of July holiday. And it is a labor of love for those involved.

Edwards said they added soldiers to the visitors’ list last year, but had been trying to connect with them for a while.

“When we were putting this together, we thought about who we appreciated and who we wanted to thank. We thought about putting the meals on ice and shipping them to the troops. We tried contacting Fort Hood and then last year we finally connected with the right people and we got a bus load of soldiers out here,” Edwards said.

Approximately 50 soldiers attended last year’s feast. Edwards said they have invited 75 this year.

As excited as the students are about having the soldiers on campus, Edwards has tried to help the children understand that sometimes the Army has urgent matters at hand. And, as with all things military, it is possible that the soldiers may not be able to make the trip.

“We’re expecting them to come, but I understand things happen. We’re really hoping to get soldiers who are about to leave or have just returned from the sand — or those who just can’t make it home for the holiday,” Edwards said.