The crowd gathered near the stage in the George Washington High School gymnasium on Nov. 21. Some hugged their loved ones and called to those they knew. Others chatted quietly among themselves.
But at 2 p.m., the room fell silent, and the gatherers bowed their head in prayer.
“Before we do the prayer, I think it would be remiss of me, and I know he said this is a community effort. And so many people helped him take this, made contributions and donations, and there’s no doubt about it. We’re thankful for you all,” said Rev. Chester Davis.
“But for what the Lord has put in this young man’s heart to do what he do, and for what he has done to serve this great community, we can never forget this man’s generosity and his contributions.”
All eyes turned to Koran Rouse, and the room erupted in applause.
Rouse has been hosting the free Thanksgiving meal in the Washington High School gym since 2018, after the death of his brother, Jonathan Rouse.
The event is named in his brother’s honor.
“He ended up passing away the week before Thanksgiving,” Rouse said. “So we went on and changed the name to his name, just to give, you know, some memories of him. And here we are three years later. It just keeps getting bigger.”
Around 250 plates were served at the event, 100 more than in 2019. Due to Covid-19, there was no Jonathan Rouse Thanksgiving dinner last year.
Rouse said he is thankful for the community’s continued support for the event. The Thanksgiving meal, he said, is a testament to Port St. Joe’s strength.
“I don’t do it for likes on Facebook,” he said. “It’s just, this is where I’m from. I was born and raised here.”
Rouse said that he has never struggled to find volunteers from the community. The local Boy Scouts troop helped pass out drinks and deserts, several neighbors put together plates, and Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners Sandy Quinn handed to-go containers to those in line.
Several guests left with several meals in hand, taking some to the elderly and those in the community who could not make it to the gymnasium.