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At Shoreline Church, all are welcome for Thanksgiving meal

Old Lyme — Mirroring its mission throughout the year, the members of Shoreline Church want their free Thanksgiving meal to be one where everyone is welcome.

While they do try to target people who are low-income or in assisted living, they also want to bring in people who are alone, who don't have anywhere else to go, who want to volunteer, or who just want some fellowship.

"It's warm and welcoming, and it's just so down-to-earth, and we're all so blessed to be a part of it," said Cheryl Broga. She has been coming to the church for about a month; her friend Barbara Bourne invited her. Bourne and her mother, Maryann Bourne, sat on either side of Broga at the mid-day meal on Thanksgiving.

Gloria Balsamo had never been in the church before, but when she got a flyer in her AHEPA senior housing up the street, her attitude was, "Oh, what the heck," she said. Balsamo also spoke of the environment as friendly and warming.

And the food? "Delicious. De-licious. And even if you went to a restaurant, this is better."

Maryann Bourne made the ham and mashed potatoes. Noreen Lavoie made some mac 'n' cheese with bacon, and her 14-year-old daughter made banana bread.

Miki Amodio got a free turkey from work and got up at 5:30 a.m. Thursday to cook it, even though she hadn't made a turkey in years. Kim Wilcox made her mother's creamed onions, something she also hadn't made in years.

"That is something that is very sentimental to me that I wanted to share with everyone," she said. Wilcox spoke of herself as someone with a heart for service, and said everyone is accepted at Shoreline Church, no questions.

Then there was the stuffing, sweet potatoes, mixed vegetables, turnips, tossed salad, dinner rolls, homemade cranberry relish, cornbread made with maple syrup from East Haddam, pumpkin pie, pecan pie and chocolate-dipped cookies.

This is the second year the nondenominational church, which has been at its 287 Shore Road location since 2010, has offered a Thanksgiving meal.

Church elder Joe Theis said the church "has a heart for missions," citing other church events throughout the year, such as the talent show.

The church asks for reservations ahead of time to get an idea of how many people will come, and about 30 to 40 people made reservations, but the church also welcomes walk-ins, Theis said. Last year's numbers were about half that.

Theis noted that Walt's Market in Old Saybrook donated turkeys and Stop & Shop donated baked goods.

Volunteers came in Wednesday night to set up. Cate Steel is not a church member but saw an ad for the meal at the East Lyme Senior Center and decided to come volunteer with her husband, Richard.

She commented that volunteering is "just a different way of celebrating."

Some of the attendees at the meal are members of LifeWater Church Of All Nations in New London, a nondenominational church that is merging with Shoreline Church in December.

LifeWater founder and pastor Javier Santos said when he met Shoreline Church people at a small event, he "felt like it was meant to be, that God united us." He came to the Thanksgiving meal with his wife, Ivonne, and their kids, ages 9, 3 and 1.

"We wanted the fellowship with the Shoreline people," he said.

e.moser@theday.com

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