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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Restaurateur taking over tradition of free Thanksgiving feast in Lima

LIMA - Lima-area McDonald's franchisee Jerry Lewis plans to carry on the community Thanksgiving dinner held the past 16 years in downtown Lima, but don't look for Big Macs on the menu.

Mr. Lewis said he'll serve the traditional fare: turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, and vegetables, though he may add McDonald's pumpkin pie.

"I've always had the philosophy of giving back to the communities in which I do business, and this is another example of that," he said at a news conference yesterday. "So we spoke to our 700 employees, my Lewis family, my friends, and said, 'What do you think about this?' And we all felt it was too good an event to let slip away from Lima."

Since 1988, the Chester and Esther Cary family of Lima has hosted a free Thanksgiving feast at the Veteran's Memorial Civic & Convention Center that has attracted 2,000 to 3,000 people. After Mr. Cary died in 1998, his widow and children carried on the tradition, but they announced that this year would be their last.

Craig Sullivan, a family friend, said the dinner was a huge undertaking for Mrs. Cary, and she decided it was time to hand it over to others.

"She didn't want to strap her children with the financial burden or the burden of continuing the project in the event she either wasn't here or something happened to her," he said. "I think that was a wise decision."

In addition to Mr. Lewis, four other groups expressed an interest in carrying on the Thanksgiving tradition, he said.

"Of that group, Mrs. Cary felt that Mr. Lewis was best-suited to do the project because he's in the food-service business, he has obviously a large stock of employees, and he shouldn't have any problem with the logistics," Mr. Sullivan said.

In addition to the free meal, the Carys - with the help of area Boy Scout and church groups - annually collected bags of groceries, toiletries, clothing, and toys to distribute to those attending the meal.

More than 100 volunteers would help serve food and clean up - volunteers Mr. Lewis said he'll continue to rely on. He owns and operates eight McDonald's restaurants in the Lima area.

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