Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator Karen Blessen designed the event’s logo.

Pulitzer-Prize winning illustrator Karen Blessen designed the event’s logo.

“A good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time,” wrote Charles Dickens of the holiday season.

His was a simpler time, true. He had no NorthPark Center crowds to fight, no VISA card to max out. Sigh. The onslaught of holiday stressors is enough to bring out the inner Scrooge in us all.

But before you mutter your first “Bah humbug,” consider how our neighborhood celebrates the season. Shared Thanksgiving dinners and toy drives help make it the best time of year.

Want to grab a bite and meet your neighbors? Each year on the Tuesday before turkey day, Skillman Church of Christ along with neighborhood associations, such as the Lakewood Heights Neighborhood Association as well as those in Wilshire Heights and Lower Greenville, host a community meal, providing all the turkey and ham you could ever want. It falls on Sunday, Nov. 20, this year, and all you have to do is show up with a side dish or dessert if you are able, along with a monetary donation for North Texas Food Bank.

A tradition since 2003, the gathering was the brainchild of Lakewood Heights resident and community activist Karen Blessen.

“Since Thanksgiving is a non-religious holiday, I thought it would be the perfect holiday for us all to gather together,” she says. “And who doesn’t love Thanksgiving food? My first visit was to Dwight Robarts, then a new pastor at Skillman Church. He was enthusiastic, and once the SCOC team got involved, it began to operate like a Swiss watch.”

Former LHNA president Melanie Vanlandingham says the neighborhood grows stronger through such community events. “Just the act of gathering communicates this power of what we can do together, this belief in something greater than ourselves, and that there are so many who are willing to make sure our vision and protection of our each other, and our homes and neighborhoods is shared by many.”

The dinner is open to any and all, but organizers always extend a special invitation to local firefighters and police officers.

Speaking of first responders, Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association makes sure they’re well taken care of during the holidays. LGNA president Pat Carr recalls, “Ten years ago LGNA Crime Watch coordinator Darren Dattalo thought it be would be a good idea to thank the firefighters at Station 17 [Belmont and Skillman] who protect our neighborhood.”

They quickly filled a large basket with homemade goodies.

“That original basket has grown to three large cartons filled with not only homemade treats, but purchased candies, chips, salsas, cookies, movies, games, gift cards and an assortment of supplies.”

And the generosity has spread, according to Carr who noted, “residents of Edgemont Park Conservation District and Lakewood Heights Neighborhood Association bring items for the firefighters as well.”

Carr remembers a kind neighbor who was determined to show her gratitude. “One elderly lady brought a bag of canned goods — tomatoes, beans and other staples. She explained that her husband had just returned home from a hospital stay and she’d not had a chance to shop.” The station’s designated chef, “with a wink and a grin,” assured them they could put all of the items to good use.

In 2011, LGNA also launched a Toys for Cops campaign after learning that Dallas police officers routinely keep stuffed animals in their patrol cars to give to frightened children they encounter on domestic violence calls or vehicle accidents. Neighbors donate piles of gently used stuffed toys, which they drop off along with the other donations.

But even more toys are needed, says Carr. “When we delivered 2013’s collection of 250 toys, we asked Chief Gary Tittle how long the supply would last. He smiled ruefully and said, ‘Maybe six months.’ That’s a lot of distressed children.”

Folks in surrounding neighborhoods hear of the toy drive and have stepped up. Greenland Hills NA, Vickery Place NA, and Edgemont Park have all answered the call to help out LGNA’s toy drive.

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