Kathryn Wade just might be the busiest person in Aiken on Thanksgiving morning.
A lifelong native of Aiken, Wade serves as the event coordinator of One Table, an annual Thanksgiving meal that brings everyone from miles around together to eat a home-cooked meal in The Alley in the heart of the city.
"I got handed the job to coordinate it probably ... over the span of 10 years," Wade said. "It has been great. I stand on the shoulders of folks who started it. We have kind of finessed it over the years, but it's been a great journey to be able to serve our community that way."
Wade said the idea for One Table "came out" of St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church's annual soup kitchen that would serve about 50 to 60 people on Thanksgiving morning. Over time, several local churches banded together and expanded the idea from a small soup kitchen to an event that would unite the entire community in a way few towns do on Thanksgiving Day.
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"I was involved in maybe the second year, and we might have had a couple hundred people come out," Wade said. "The idea is to get people from all backgrounds to sit together at one table ... It's the only time of the year you really see a person who is homeless sitting next to someone who drove up in a Mercedes. We're all the same on that day."
One Table has vastly grown over the past decade.
The event is serviced by a small army of volunteers who do everything from roasting the event's 80-plus turkeys to serving guests to assisting with cleanup at the end of the day.
Wade said that, usually, at least 1,000 people show up for One Table, and the event has only been rained out once in 13 years.
"I think it's what makes Aiken unique, because we are an incredible volunteer-oriented community," Wade said. "... It's always a great day. It's a great show of compassion and kindness. We never have a shortage of volunteers."
Although she is the "face of One Table," Wade gives full credit to those volunteers and other coordinators who help make the event possible.
Wade's sense of giving extends far beyond One Table. She is a licensed therapist and serves as the director of Life Choices Pregnancy Care Center on Whiskey Road in Aiken.
"The majority of what we do there is work with single moms and single dads who are struggling with parenthood," Wade said.
The faith-based family counseling organization reaches about 400 people in the community a year, Wade said. They receive some of their clients from the Department of Social Services and work extensively with families, from those who are expecting children to parents who already have teenagers.
"We work to help get their lives going in the right direction," Wade said. "... Single parenting is very difficult. When you've got generations of single parenting there are complete holes and deficits in their lives."
She sees the trend of those deficits getting worse in families – but she's no less determined to help those in need, she said.
Wade has been married to her husband, Robert, for almost 24 years. Her 18-year-old son, Seth, who she "adores," is currently attending his first semester at Anderson University.
"We're trying to figure out that empty nest," Wade said. "... But it's been a great transition for him."
On Thanksgiving morning, volunteers arrive downtown around 7 a.m. to start preparing for One Table and stay until the last tables have been packed away.
"You'll see me there early, running around like a crazy person," Wade said. "... But it's very rewarding."
After a very hectic day at One Table, Wade likes to spend a quiet evening at home. She and her family have their own private, family dinner, but it's usually something simple.
Leftovers from One Table are all donated to the Salvation Army, so no food is wasted; and Wade doesn't feel much like cooking after overseeing one of the largest community events of the year in Aiken.
The thing she loves most about service, she said, is being able to give back to the community that raised her. Wade wants to share love – even if she's not a "big hugger."
"I've lived here all my life, so being able to serve my community and love on them is just the best," she said.
Wade said the desire to help people has always been a part of her life, ever since she was a young child.
"I think a lot of it comes from my faith," Wade said. "... And wanting to demonstrate care and kindness as much as I can and as broadly as I can. Just combine that with being a part of a community that I love and a family that I love."
That love is a big reason why she helps coordinate One Table each year, even though the event is a massive undertaking that takes months of work. Coordinating One Table comes down largely to just Wade and the event's volunteer coordinator, Lynne Sharpe.
"Jesus loves these people, so I need to, too," Wade said. "Sometimes, we're very unloveable ... so, sometimes, it's a challenge. But, ultimately, that's what I'm trying to do."
Over the years, Wade has tried to elaborate on the fact that One Table is not just an event for people in need. It's purpose, she said, is to bring people together and give them happy memories, especially when they have no one else to spend the holiday with.
"One time, I stopped to talk to a man who had tears streaming down his face," Wade said. "He said that he had gotten divorced, like, three or four months earlier, and he was just devastated. He had nobody. So he heard about this and he came down, and he was so overwhelmed that all these people were encouraging and loving on him. He said it was just what he needed."
"So, gathering those stories over the years, I get up and say, 'Yeah, I can do this another year,'" she continued.
Although Wade enjoys coordinating One Table, she also looks forward to the day when she can pass the baton on and watch the event grow in a new way.
"We're always looking for other people who can take what we built and then take it even further," Wade said.