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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — A busload of Camp Lejeune Marines made their way to the Port City Thanksgiving morning to enjoy a holiday meal with strangers.

Port City Java organized the event that brought more than 50 Marines into Wilmington, pairing them off with families that were grateful for their service and happy to feed a few more.

Though more than 100 families wanted to help out, only 27 were needed. Twig Rollins considers himself lucky to be chosen.

“We’re going to have 20, 21 of us here, and it would be OK with me if we had 42 of us,” he said. “Just to let them know that they are loved and appreciated and that it’s just not lip service. They really are appreciated for what they do and what they are willing to give.”

Quamir Mathis, 18, and Andrew Fildes, 20, are both away from home and say this is the next best thing.

“I was like, ‘A real Thanksgiving dinner? Yes!'” Fildes said.

Mathis said, “I’m pretty new at it, but I’m trying to defend my country, and I just appreciate the gratitude that they’re showing us by bringing us into their home.”

Bill Harrell served in the Navy and knows how homesick the holidays make someone. He still remembers when a family took him in for Christmas dinner more than 60 years ago.

“They think about being at home on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I know I did when I was in the service,” Harrell said. “Just a whole lot of enjoyment, and it helped me to realize the true meaning of Christmas.”

Harrell says he hopes the Marines have the same fond memories of this Thanksgiving.

“They’re awesome,” Fildes said of the host families. “It’s great to be off base for a little bit.”

“These are my family,” Mathis said. “This is my family. That’s the best way I can think of it.”

Both the families and Marines say what they are most Thankful for is each other.

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