Surrounded by mountains and pastures, more than 200 veterans, friends and supporters came together in Botetourt County on Thursday to break bread and give thanks.
“Today, I get to have Thanksgiving with my chosen family,” Lois Fritz, founder of New Freedom Farm, said as she looked over the renovated barn that was serving as the day’s banquet hall.
This jovial feast, complete with all the trimmings, has become a n annual event since New Freedom Farm opened near Buchanan in 2016. The guest list has grown exponentially — from an original 28 to more than 215 for this year’s festivities.
“It’s remarkable to see,” said Gary Ziglar, a Navy veteran and a member of American Legion Post 3 in Salem.
The holiday dinner is centered on honoring veterans in keeping with the mission of New Freedom. Fritz, a Navy veteran, started the horse rescue farm with a larger goal of serving military veterans who find refuge in the therapeutic work of caring for the horses that come to the farm in need of help.
Thursday’s meal, offered free to anyone who wished to enjoy turkey and fellowship, was prepared with help from volunteers with Rolling Thunder, the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and the American Legion Riders.
Veterans from ages 29 to 94 shared a table and bowed their heads during a moment of grace.
“Just know that you are appreciated,” said Ray Sloan, an event volunteer and a Botetourt County Board of Supervisors member who led the group’s blessing.
“No matter where you were or how you did it, we appreciate your service,” he said.