CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Every year for the past 51 years, volunteers get together to provide a warm meal for the less fortunate in Charleston.

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Frank Veltri, a Charleston hotel owner, started the tradition Thanksgiving Day 1966.

Thursday will mark the 51st Annual Frank Veltri Thanksgiving Dinner at First Baptist Church.

Volunteers were at the church Wednesday to prepare food. About 1,600 food deliveries will be made Thursday. The sit down dinner will include more than 250 people.

In 1966, Veltri opened his doors at his Charleston hotel to provide the needy with a warm Thanksgiving meal. He was the owner of the former Holley and Worthy hotels on Quarrier Street. Every year he allowed homeless people or nearby family to stay and have dinner with him and his wife.

Carol Hodge, a long time volunteer, said the dinner started out with one turkey and a few sides.

“One turkey, some green beans, some potatoes, pumpkin pie and I think it was two people there at the Holley that didn’t have no family, didn’t have no place to go so he invited those two people to have dinner with them and over the years it has grown,” she said.

Veltri died in 2001.

Hodge said she knew Veltri from the time she started volunteering in the 1960s. She said she oftens feels his presence at the event each year.

“Even though he has been gone 16 years, it seems like it’s yesterday. I can feel him at times. Don’t think that I’m crazy, but I just feel like he’s watching over us,” Hodge said.

Volunteering has become an important part of Hodge’s life. She said she plans to continue to give back.

“This is what we need. We need unity. We need to come together and help each other,” she said.

The meal prep included nearly 70 turkey roasts, 17 turkeys, 40 hams, 2,200 rolls, 300 pies, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, corn, cranberry sauce and beverages.

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