The event is named in honor of Wilson's father, Earl Wilson, a cook for two decades at Bennigan's, who died soon before the 2009 dinner. Wilson's cousin surprised him at that year's dinner, handing him a plaque and announcing the event was being named after Wilson's dad.
"I definitely got emotional after learning that," he said. "Food always brought our family together. And this event brought the community together."
The first year of the dinner they wondered who could handle the kitchen, said Wilson, whose nickname growing up was "Taco." Who else?
"He was the best cook that we knew. You know, it was like Earl, Taco's dad! He ran the kitchen for the first year, him and Elliot Roseberry, who continues that legacy. Elliot's probably been here today since 8 or 9 o'clock this morning, cooking and prepping."
The organizers hope to expand the event next year by adding new locales, including Charleston's East End and McDowell County.
Randy Burnside, hoisting his granddaughter Marley in his arms, works at the Tiskelwah Center. He gazed around the packed room, wondering if they might need a bigger place as the event grows.
"We want the West Side known that it's not all bad," he said. "Look at the people, look at the kids!"
John Roberts, director of the Mountain Mission, said he was glad his agency could help and then was delighted to witness the dinner's breadth. "It just pulls your heartstrings," he said.
"There are elderly people here that may not have a warm meal at home. We can't just sit and wait for families to come to us. We have to go out and look for them. Because people need people. We need our neighbors.
"This time of year, there's a lot of people that just don't have family or may not have the financial resources to be able to put a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the table. Groups coming together like this can really fill that void in a person's life.
"At the end of the day, they go home, they're fed, they feel like they're part of the community."
:Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.