Veteran invites Florence victims to annual Thanksgiving feast

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Marines play corn hole at a Thanksgiving celebration in Burgaw. (Photo: Matt Bennett/WWAY)

BURGAW, NC (WWAY) — A Burgaw man whose home was left unlivable by Hurricane Florence didn’t let that stop him from hosting an annual Thanksgiving event for military families.

Five years ago, Bill O’Brien and his wife held a thanksgiving dinner for Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune.

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Since then, it has grown each year to become a huge operation, welcoming hundreds of active service members and veterans.

“People telling people that they want to pitch in, and then it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger every year,” said volunteer Matt Wall.

O’Brien, who runs a non profit called Veteran Owned Veteran Grown, says he knows the feeling of being away from family during the holidays, and wants everyone to feel at home.

“They treat us like family, which is awesome. For the Marines that aren’t able to go home to their families, this is home,” said Marine Jose Santiago.

The event is usually only open to veterans and active military, but with so many people left with nothing after Hurricane Florence, O’Brien decided to open his doors to the entire community.

“You see all their belongings on the side of the road as you come up here on Highway 53, but they’re here today to forget about that for the day,” said O’Brien. “No matter how bad it gets, you’ve always got something to be thankful for. And that’s what we’re trying to show them here.”

O’Brien says last year the weather wasn’t great, and they only had about 200 people attend. This year, they tripled that.

“Three bus loads of military personnel. And if we have enough food, we’ll do like we did last year and send them all home with to-go boxes to feed the people that couldn’t actually make the trip,” said Wall.

“That family feeling, I knew I would have that feeling coming out here with all my fellow Marines,” said Antwan Wordlaw.

O’Brien says he couldn’t put on this event without food donations from corporate sponsors like Sysco Foods.

He hopes to make it even bigger next year.