The thing that finally made Linda Greenberg cry was an elderly womanfrom Annapolis public housing who sobbed her way through the entire Thanksgiving dinner, thrilled that she wasn't eating alone.
"This very old woman sat there with tears rolling down her face," she said."I put my arm around her and asked what the matter was. In her little voice, she said, 'This is the happiest day of my life to be with all these people.' It got to me."
Last year, the Crownsville community activist organized donationsto feed 150 people during the fall holiday. This year, she plans to spread a turkey and corn bread feast before 500 county residents.
Greenberg, known around the county for her indefatigable good deeds, has charmed and coerced people into providing plenty of food for thisyear's dinner. Friends and businesses have promised not only enough turkey to feed hundreds of guests, but also dozens of cans of cranberries, piles of string beans and rows of pies.
All that's needed tothrow a Thanksgiving party are the people.
Finding hungry or lonesome people doesn't sound like much of a chore. But letting them knowabout her dinner, and transporting them to a YMCA camp in Mayo is a big problem for one 5-foot housewife. So, she's starting early to recruit help and get the event organized.
First, Greenberg needs people to come and eat the promised food. "We're opening this up to anyone who is alone for the holidays, anyone in need of a beautiful meal -- handicapped, battered women, abused people, divorced. Obviously, Thanksgiving can be a very depressing time for people by themselves," Greenberg says.
"Everyone is invited, and we're not having any press there. The meal is sumptuous," she said.
She encourages churchesto find out who in their area may need a free Thanksgiving meal and take a group of people to Mayo on the holiday.
"If a large group of people can meet in one place, like a senior citizens home or a church, I'll get a bus and get it to pick them up," Greenberg says.
For instance, at noon on Thanksgiving Day, a van will be at the corner of West and West Washington streets in Annapolis to take people to Mayo.
To pull off this big dinner party, Greenberg also needs dozensof volunteers to help serve the food. Last year, 50 volunteers dished up stuffing and sliced ham, but more people are needed to serve the500 expected guests.
She also hopes for gifts for the guests, from new stuffed animals to plastic diapers and board games. "This way every young toddler (and) infants through teen-agers has a gift when they leave, something extra to be thankful for," she says.
She's asking schools to donate items in bulk, perhaps by having each child bring in two boxes of diapers. The gifts don't need to be wrapped, but if they are, donors should put the contents and appropriate age and sex of a recipient on the outside of the package.
And while she hasa wealth of food promised, Greenberg says she'll need more if 500 people actually show up.
Local caterers are donating beef, ham, sauerkraut and macaroni salad for 200; senior citizens are making dozens of pies. One family is bringing sliced cranberries for 200 people; another string beans and nuts for 200; a single woman has promised seven turkeys and corn bread. Area residents also have promised to make enough stuffing and baked beans for several hundred people.
Greenberg hopes to double those amounts, as well as find some entertainers, such as clowns, to help with the event. Anyone interested may call her at 841-6280 or Gloria Brown at 269-6697.
So far, three schools have organized to help out. About 60 students from South River High have offered to decorate Camp Letts, the Y camp that has offered use ofits dining room for the party. Teen-agers from Arundel High are bringing 15 turkeys and helping to serve, as are students from the SevernSchool.
Most impressive last year were the volunteers, says Greenberg. "It was like something you see in a film, the way people got inthe spirit of the holiday. They pitched in like one big family. Whendinner was all over, they cleaned the place spotless. Then they packaged up any leftovers and took them to local food banks."
Asked whether she doesn't expect a lot of people during a year of economic hardship, Greenberg just smiles. "To me," she says quietly, "there's nogreater joy than being a part of something like this.
"To see allthese people away from their problems and in a beautiful environmentwhere they can enjoy a beautiful meal -- What could be a better way to celebrate Thanksgiving?"