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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 11/26/15. Erin Teagarden receives a hug from sixteen-year-old Niki McKenna as she eats a free Thanksgiving meal at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Thursday, November 26, 2015.

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Community Kitchen hosts annual Thanksgiving Day dinner

Renée Rapp had a full plate of all the traditional food for a Thanksgiving dinner — turkey, stuffing and pie. Her favorite food is the stuffing and she appreciated that it was homemade. When she makes it, she adds a secret ingredient.

"I like to put in some giblets," she said with a chuckle.

Rapp was one of an estimated 1,000 people to get a free Thanksgiving meal from the Chattanooga Community Kitchen on Thursday.

Community Kitchen Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Turner said the most important thing, besides providing a warm meal to people who otherwise couldn't afford one, is giving them a welcoming environment.

"We want to provide them with what culture and society says is normal," Turner said. "And it's normal on Thanksgiving Day to get together with friends and family and loved ones, and just sit down around the table together and have a good time and be thankful."

Turner has been at Community Kitchen for just a few months, but he said the kitchen has been providing a free Thanksgiving meal ever since it started in 1982.

The menu was full of traditional Thanksgiving food — turkey, dressing, gravy, green beans, rolls and cranberry sauce with sweet tea and water to drink. And for dessert, people had their choice of pumpkin or apple pie.

Most of the food was donated, and some was made from volunteers. Because of the donations, the kitchen didn't have to buy food to put on the dinner, Turner said. The volunteers come through a couple different avenues. Some people call ahead, some people register online and some just show up on Thanksgiving Day and ask where they're needed.

"Many of the volunteers we get come in as a family unit," Turner said. "We got mom, dad, kids, grandkids, everybody just comes in together to do it. It's wonderful."

Ryan Moore is from Ohio originally but he's been in Chattanooga for six years. He's been to the Thanksgiving dinner at the kitchen every year since then — his favorite food is turkey with gravy — and he said he's appreciative of having somewhere to go on the holiday.

"Yep, I sure am," he said.

Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at ehoopfer @timesfreepress.com or @EvanHoopfer on Twitter or 423-757-6731.

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