Following the death of its founder, community dinner continues o - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Following the death of its founder, community dinner continues on

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

With plenty of turkey and fixings to go around, from the outside, the Thanksgiving Eve meal at Waterloo's Antioch Baptist Church looks like a traditional holiday meal. But this year's dinner is missing a special part.

"My husband used to sit right over there. He would speak to everybody. It warms my heart to be able to continue that legacy," said Reatha Phillips.

Deacon Dean Phillips lost his battle with cancer just days before Thanksgiving.

His dying wish was to see the free community dinner he started nearly a decade ago continue on for years to come.

"It was just a few days ago that he was right here with us. This is especially hard, but knowing that this is what he wanted, not just that he wanted it for tonight. 17 years ago, when God gave him this vision, he did everything that he could to make sure that it was carried out," said Phillips' wife, Reatha.

Through this dinner, Phillips ensured strangers became friends and no one was forgotten.

"People coming together; how much fun they have in here. There is no limit. They can go back as many times as they want. Our goal is to make sure you leave here completely fed. If no one smiles at you all week long, when you come in here, you will be embraced," said Reatha.

Now his wife, family, and friends are ensuring Phillips is never forgotten by ensuring this holiday tradition remains a light for those who need it most.

During Sunday's service, church leaders announced the dinner would be named in Phillips' honor.

Every year, more than 500 people take part in the dinner.

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