Ralph Henderson got an extra helping of sauerkraut yesterday simply because the governor was serving, wearing an apron emblazoned with a giant G.
"I had to seek him out," the 56-year-old Henderson said. "How many times can you say you've been served by the governor?"
FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday incorrectly stated the reason Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was unable to attend a Thanksgiving dinner at which he was to be honored for service by Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake. He was delayed by personal appointments that ran late and not by illness, his office said. The Sun regrets the error.
Henderson enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner a day early with about 3,700 people at the Baltimore Convention Center. The feast for people with disabilities and special needs is held by Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake Inc., which celebrated its 50th Thanksgiving.
Since 1955, Goodwill has served Thanksgiving meals to about 100,000 people in Baltimore with the help of 6,750 volunteers. Last year, the event attracted 3,800 people, with tickets for the event distributed through city social service agencies. The food and location are donated, and a catering company charges only to cook the meal.
Henderson was eager to tell his grandchildren about the afternoon encounter with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Henderson, who used to work for the Baltimore County school board, said he has been trying to get his life back together - he has been sober for four years - and believes that events such as yesterday's dinner help. "The camaraderie," Henderson said, "people just getting together. The atmosphere is very good."
The annual event is an important part of helping those who might not be able to afford a Thanksgiving meal, said Donald Blair, a volunteer for more than 30 years.
"It reminds all of us that we have an obligation to inconvenience ourselves because we've been very blessed," said Ehrlich.
The 200-plus volunteers who helped serve the food included City Council members and state senators, along with several clowns. Santa Claus wandered among the tables, giving gifts to children.
Sharon Green, 33, and her sister brought their combined six children, who eagerly accepted Santa's presents. The two families were evicted last week. While trying to find a house for eight people - two adults and six children between the ages of 5 and 13, two of whom are disabled - a Thanksgiving meal had fallen by the wayside, said Green's sister, Pattie Cheema.
In the meantime, governor or no governor, Spence Kendrick, 48, wasn't having sauerkraut yesterday. "It's not a big enough plate," he said as he passed the governor's spoon dripping with the cabbage.
Kendrick was one of six people who snubbed Ehrlich's sauerkraut. Ehrlich, who said he is no sauerkraut lover himself, noted that two avowed sauerkraut haters requested the cabbage just because he was serving.
Regardless, Kendrick's plate was far from empty, heaped with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, applesauce, cranberries and collard greens. The meal was topped off with huge wedges of cheesecake.
In addition to the food, yesterday's dinner included a career fair to help people find employment. Career assistance was available from volunteers, who helped create resumes. Thresa Woods, 42, had come from the Eastern Shore to enjoy the meal and find a cleaning position in the city.
Volunteers also traveled to attend the dinner. Mark Raines, 40, flew in from Chicago. "Every year, I come back," the former Towson student said. "With mashed potatoes, you can't go wrong," he said about his assignment this year. Last year, he was stuck in a coat room.
Volunteers came from across the city. Sharon Jackson, 17, joined members of her church for the second consecutive year. "Just helping out and feeding those who need it" is rewarding, she said.
During yesterday's meal, Ehrlich had been scheduled to present Comptroller William Donald Schaefer with a plaque honoring Schaefer's 30 years of service to the organization. But Schaefer - who helped bring the dinner to the convention center 25 years ago when he was mayor - was unable to attend the event because of illness.
A separate Thanksgiving celebration was held yesterday for people with special needs by Goodwill in Annapolis at the Asbury Methodist Church.