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Free Thanksgiving meals served locallyREED CITY — Sitting down to a holiday meal with a collection of friends and strangers he considers his family, Alfred Root has a lot to be thankful for. “I’m thankful for everything: the meal, the day the Lord has given us and for every breath I take,” said the 79-year old. Root and his wife, Sophia, attended the free Thanksgiving meal at Nestle Inn Cafe in Reed City as a way to celebrate the holiday. With their children living far away, the pair make an annual tradition of visiting the Reed City restaurant on Thanksgiving. “They have the best coffee and the right sized cups. They have the best food,” Root said. “Right now, this is my family.” Co-owners Richard Pemberton and Shari Holben began the restaurant’s free Thanksgiving meal six years ago as a way to reach out to community members who have nowhere else to go for the holiday. Holben said the gathering is a way to connect with the community instead of having a small family gathering of her own. “We decided to create our own family and open our doors for the less fortunate,” she said. The restaurant served 90 pounds of turkey, 70 pounds of roast beef, 30 pounds of ham and 80 bags of potatoes among other side dishes and desserts. About 15 minutes into the meal, nearly 30 people had been served. The restaurant expected around 150 feasters for the day. “People seem to be coming more spread out than last year, so that’ll make it seem easy for us,” Holben said. Though the meal was free to diners, donations were collected to be used for outreach in the community. The restaurant adopted a child for Christmas and will purchase coats and hats for children in need in the community. At Crossroads Charter Academy, The Judah Company, a newly-formed Christian outreach group in the Big Rapids area, also hosted a Thanksgiving dinner. The group had enough food and volunteers to feed 300 people, but less than 30 individuals came for the free feast. Group founder Lynda Brandly said though the turnout was less than expected, she was confident the group still was fulfilling its mission to “be Jesus to the community.” “I think we did what God wanted us to do,” Brandly said. “So many people brought in food and wanted to help. We’ve had so much joy here today.” Along with a traditional Thanksgiving meal, the group gave away free mats and blankets as well as personal necessity items, such as toothpaste, diapers, shampoo and razors. With family members located at various places around the state and country, Big Rapids native Evan Luce said the Judah Company’s Thanksgiving outreach was a nice way to spend the holiday with his girlfriend and others. “I heard about it through church. It was good food,” Luce said. Brandly said she hopes to help the outreach programs of other local organizations in the community during the Christmas season. “We’re going to do what the Lord says to do,” she said.