CANTON, Ill - Canton felt a little emptier as shops closed for Thanksgiving, many still bearing the scars of the explosion earlier this month. But all of the stress was forgotten - even if for only for a few hours - thanks to Operation: Thanksgiving Canton.
"My husband and I were looking for a volunteer opportunity," explains Volunteer coordinator Kayleigh Kemper, "and we reached out to Peoria. And they suggested since we live in Canton, to come and see Lieutenant Sarah here."
That would be Lt. Sarah Eddy, the Corps Officer for the Salvation Army in Canton. The three of them began laying the groundwork for Operation: Thanksgiving Canton in early November, aiming to bring the community together.
Then, just a week before Thanksgiving, a gas line in Canton exploded, and the Thanksgiving lunch took on a whole new meaning.
"We wanted a chance to give people a place to go for Thanksgiving that didn't have a place to go or needed a place to go because of whatever might be happening in their lives at this moment," says Eddy.
Despite losing several days of preparation, the Kempers were even more driven to help and give. They wanted Canton not only to recover, but to thrive.
"Opening our doors with the Salvation Army and putting on a dinner in the wake of the disaster that happened in our community just shows our strength," says Kemper.
And that strength made an appearance in every person, couple and family that walked through the doors of the Salvation Army - they were greeted by friendly, local faces and given a chance to relax and enjoy a home cooked meal. For some, it meant even more.
"I guess you could say it gives us hope," quips Anthony Cantrell, who lives near Canton. "That we can...there's people out there that we can count on when times get really, really tough for us."
In all, dozens of people from in and around Canton came to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, proving that they still are Canton strong.