While Thanksgiving is celebrated on a single Thursday in November, the gratitude, kindness and giving spirit of these people in the Williamsburg-area community shines throughout the year, touching lives near and far.
To share your stories of being thanful and of gratitude, click here, to create an account and tell us what or who you're thankful for this year.
Please click part II and part III to read other stories in our holiday series.
Eye surgeon travels far to help those in need
Doug Cullom devotes at least an hour each day to learning Spanish. He's done so almost every day for the past 14 months.
Five years ago, Cullom, a local ophthalmologist, traveled to Ecuador on a volunteer trip with the nonprofit group Surgical Eye Expeditions International.
There, he performed free surgeries — renewing sight to people blinded by cataracts. Cullom has since traveled to Mexico and El Salvador, performing close to 40 surgeries on each trip.
“It's an unbelievably moving experience the day after surgery when they take their bandages off,” Cullom said. “They're hugging you and telling you stories.”
“That's why I want to learn Spanish,” he said. “Because I love hearing them.”
Cullom, 54, has practiced in Williamsburg for about 17 years, opening Cullom Eye and Laser Center. He stayed put for a time because of work and family commitments - with his wife and twin boys.
But he said the trips were something he had always wanted to do, and with an expertise in cataract surgery, Cullom felt he could give back.
In the United States, cataracts are usually removed early on, before they progress to cause blindness. It's a quick surgery, with quick recovery.
“The sad thing in other parts of the world is there's so many people that have this treatable condition of blindness,” Cullom said.
In developing countries, cataracts can keep individuals from working, from independence. This then constrains family members or caretakers. Blindness is a cause of poverty and hunger worldwide, according to Surgical Eye Expeditions' website.
Some might wait years for surgery.
“It's like winning the lottery,” Cullom said. “They are so grateful.”
He tells of an elderly woman who, following surgery, danced around — giving Cullom and the staff hugs and kisses. Cullom remembers those moments.
“They're tough, incredibly tough people,” Cullom said. “A lot of them have had very hard lives. You wouldn't know it. … They're so happy and positive.”
Cullom will return to El Salvador in March.
His goal is to make three to four trips each year, and he hopes to visit Africa and Asia in the future.
“There's a lot of talk about happiness,” Cullom said.
“But one of the biggest things is just giving back,” Cullom said. “So simple.”
For more information on Surgical Eye Expeditions, visit seeintl.org.
Lifestyles reporter Heather Bridges
Thanksgiving dinner holds community together
JAMES CITY — The kitchen at the James City County Recreation Center smelled like a holiday dinner last Friday afternoon. Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff’s Deputy Victoria Thomas surveyed a large bowl of stuffing sitting on the counter.
“Just a little bit more seasoning,” she said, adding a few shakes of undisclosed spices into the bowl. The table was lined with trays of candied yams and green beans, greens were simmering on the stove.
For 14 years now, Thomas has helped coordinate the Operation SHARE Thanksgiving dinner for seniors in the community.
Among the community sponsors for the dinner, which was held last Saturday, are the James City County and Williamsburg police departments and others.
The dinner provides transportation for attendees, and has drawn between 150 and 200 people each year. Thomas cooks the food with love, with all the trimmings involved, turkeys and ham, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.
She’ll put almost anyone to work who strolls past the kitchen while she’s preparing the food — the Gazette learned this firsthand during the course of an interview.
“It’s just a way of giving back, usually the during the holidays some seniors don’t have families in the area. With this dinner we allow them to get together with everybody and have a good time and sit back and enjoy this time of year.”
Thomas is a career law enforcement officer, a Louisiana native, she also worked with Williamsburg police and the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail before transferring to James City County police, where she works in the civil process office.
This past spring Del. Brenda Pogge, R-James City, recognized Thomas’s work with the sheriff’s department with a resolution passed by the General Assembly.
After helping out with the community feast, she still plans on cooking for her own family this Thursday, including her son Tony, 20. “I have a house full of folk. I’m always cooking,” Thomas said.
James City County Reporter, Austin Bogues