“The whole community coming together:” Racine feeds thousands on Thanksgiving

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RACINE (WITI) -- Five years ago, a couple of business owners put an idea into action. Now, a free community wide dinner is becoming a Racine tradition.

On Thanksgiving day, Racine's festival hall lives up to its name. More than 2,000 people show up for a free meal.

"Everyone focuses on the negative but there's a lot of good out there and we're just trying to bring it out," said Dan Johnson, creator of the event.

Dan Johnson started the event with his friend, and fellow business owner, Ray Stibeck. He says, for years, they'd talked about hosting a free community wide meal. Five years later, the only people turned away are potential volunteers.

"It's snowballed. We have over 600 people that volunteer, we have 300 that we can use and that's even stretching it," said Johnson.

As word spread, Johnson says the donors started lining up. From 750 plates the first year, to more than 2,000. Live entertainment accompanies the spread that includes 60 turkeys, 600 pounds of mashed potatoes, and a wall of stuffing.

"Just to see the smiles on people's faces, the whole community coming together. We live in a time where there's so much negativity. This is for a couple hours, that negativity is gone," said volunteer, J.J. McAuliffe.

Many of the faces in Festival Hall are now familiar to one another. A number of donors and volunteers have made the community dinner a family tradition.

"If you just live in a small bubble of the world, you don't know what the rest of the world looks like -- and this is one of those ways you get to know," said Ellen Cardwell, dinner attendee.

Johnson says the event's grown, they've ended up with a surplus of donations. Last year, some of that money helped fund a prom for special needs students. He's expecting another surplus this year.

Just to give you an idea of how many donations came in, Johnson says it costs about $10,000 to feed 2,000 people.