The Draper family has been a mainstay of Newark’s Thanksgiving morning community breakfast for more than 20 years, with more than a dozen family members usually in attendance.

They had to pause that tradition last year when, like so many other events, the breakfast was canceled due to the pandemic. That made this year’s gathering even more meaningful.

“It’s the first time in a year and a half that we’ve all been together,” matriarch Donna Draper said. “There’s much to be thankful for – our health, our family and our community.”

This year marked the 35th anniversary of the Newark Parks and Recreation Department’s community breakfast, which is held each year at the George Wilson Center and staffed by dozens of volunteers.

The community breakfast began as a way to serve University of Delaware students who couldn’t make it home for the holidays. While it still draws some students, particularly from the burgeoning population of international students, it has morphed into a community event that draws many of the same families year after year.

For as little as $3, attendees were treated to eggs, pancakes, sausage, doughnuts, coffee and orange juice.

“Last year, it felt strange not to have the Thanksgiving day breakfast,” said Parks and Recreation Director Joe Spadafino, who spent the morning flipping pancakes. “We’re excited to be back this year.”

That was a sentiment expressed by many at the breakfast as they greeted friends, neighbors and the volunteers that help out at the event year after year.

“We missed it last year. It’s great to be back. Everyone is so nice and treats us well,” said Rose Roberts, who was dining with friend Nancy Bolinski. “It’s nice to be around people and friends.

Mike Lukaszewicz brought his mother-in-law, Ruth Kalesse, to the breakfast. He said he has been attending the breakfast for several years and missed it last year when the pandemic kept many families apart.

“It was really bad last year. I couldn’t even eat with my mother,” Lukaszewicz said, adding that his mother died from COVID-19 a couple months after Thanksgiving.

A former Downes Elementary School teacher, Lukaszewicz said he enjoys the breakfast because he sees a lot of former students and other people he knows from the community.

A few tables over, Phoebe Eldridge and Janet Louise were enjoying their breakfasts.

“It makes Thanksgiving morning more cheerful,” Eldridge said.

“We were missing this last year,” Louise added. “It’s a wonderful tradition.”

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