For Aiken native Cheryl Olsen Rafter, who decades ago moved to Atlanta, returning to the area with her family for Aiken's One Table downtown celebration brought back fond memories of her beloved childhood home.
Joined by her son, Erik Rafter, and grandson, Tonnes Rafter, 3, the family united with thousands of others beneath a brilliant blue sky Thursday for the eighth annual One Table Thanksgiving dinner.
Tables lined The Alley beneath a canopy of vibrantly-colored trees where music and Thanksgiving fare blended together for a unique Aiken treat.
“This is wonderful,” she said peering into The Alley. “They do an amazing job. They are so giving here in Aiken.”
Rafter reminisced about her days at Aiken High School and attending nursing school in Aiken before she moved.
Like so many others who sat down for the traditional Thanksgiving meal, she said she was glad to have made the trip.
Eight-year-old Jeffrey Mosley, who traveled with his family from Vidalia, Ga., to see relatives in Aiken, was all too happy to gobble down a cupcake, saying the food was good.
The food was good –even better than it has been in the past, said Aiken resident John Kenney.
“It was the best yet,” he said listening to a gospel choir belt out tunes on Newberry Street. “The best music – we love gospel.”
Volunteer Jessi George said a large crowd attended, adding that as many as 3,000 people likely gathered for the dinner.
After going strong for eight years, George said she doesn't foresee an end to the annual dinner, adding that there are always a few hiccups, but again, “it worked.”
“That's Aiken,” she said. “I just don't think it could happen anywhere else.”
Organizers said any leftovers would be donated to area nonprofit groups and other charities in the area.