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Nearly 2,000 attend Howard Payne's annual Thanksgiving Day lunch

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BROWNWOOD, Texas - For more than three decades, Howard Payne University has been feeding families, friends, and strangers at its annual Thanksgiving Day lunch.

This year, 1,850 people showed up to partake in a free meal. This was HPU's 34th year hosting the Thanksgiving Day Community Feast. It took place rom 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. inside the Mabee University Center.

Paulette Henderson has been helping to cook the school's holiday meal since 1988.

"I really do love it," Henderson said. "I love cooking and I love doing this."

Henderson said the chance to help the less fortunate is what keeps bringing her back to the kitchen.

"These people that come in and eat, some of them are not homeless," Henderson said. "But if we could feed the homeless kids, the kids that [are] out there...that would be the greatest thing that's ever been."

For HPU Associate Vice President of Business and Human Resources Bill Fishback, it's his 25th year leading the lunch.

"I tell people if you don't want to shop, cook, and clean, come eat with us, we'd love to have you," Fishback said.

Donations pay for the food and Fishback said the university did see a decline in how much people gave.

"This is the first year that we've been short going in to today's meal. But I'm hoping and praying the community comes through again," Fishback said, adding that he's not concerned about the funds and believes the school will receive enough to break even.

Executive Chef James Gilbert said his focus Thursday was making sure everyone walking through the doors of the Mabee University Center got a warm meal.

Gilbert said his kitchen staff cooked about 2,500 pounds of turkey and made fresh mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans.

"As patrons are coming ... it's fresh out of the mixer," Gilbert said.

They also served home-cooked pumpkin pie.

Gilbert credits the dozens of volunteers who showed up Thursday as the backbone for running a successful event.

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