FERGUSON, USA – A peaceful Ferguson came together Thursday, November 27, to celebrate Thanksgiving and recover from violent protests that erupted when a police officer was not charged in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.
Armed National Guard troops and humvees with US flags hoisted on their antennae at the shopping mall and boarded-up stores were the only outward sign of the turbulence of recent days.
There were no protesters or police on the streets of the St Louis suburb, which reeled from Monday's decision by a Missouri grand jury not to charge a white policeman who shot dead 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9.
Residents kept out of the cold, spending the holiday with friends and family, attending church services and beautifying boarded-up stores.
"I believe God enough to know we will rebuild," said Reverend Carlton Lee, the pastor at Flood Christian Church, which was burnt beyond repair during the violence on Monday.
He spoke at a service at the nearby Wellspring Church, saying he had received death threats and was devastated to watch the building go up in flames.
But life would carry on, Lee said.
Sunday service will be held in a heated tent in the parking lot and the church, where Brown's father reportedly worshipped, set up an online appeal for $50,000 to rebuild. So far, it has attracted $2,000.
Free turkey and pumpkin pie
Wellspring offered a free traditional Thanksgiving lunch of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and pumpkin pie to members of the community and a diverse group of Christians from nearby parishes who came to express support.
"We do this every year but right now with the Ferguson unrest, it just brings the community together," said volunteer server Rhonda Johnson.
"The important thing is for people who have been to Ferguson, and who have shopped in Ferguson, and who have been part of Ferguson, to keep doing that," said fellow volunteer and local journalist Alvin Reid.
Anger over the grand jury verdict and Brown's killing is still palpable, and protesters have all vowed to continue demonstrating until justice is served.
"I don't know what's going to happen, I really don't. I think time heals all wounds but how much time it's going to take, I don't know," said Reid.
Many say they can never accept the grand jury decision that Officer Darren Wilson shot Brown in lawful self-defense after an altercation. In total, 12 shots were fired.
Wellspring pastor Willis Johnson said the community still felt great disappointment and mistrust, but was quietly optimistic that healing would come.
"We thought more than anything that people needed to come out and come together," Johnson told the Agence France-Presse as diners tucked into lunch. "It was imperative."
His church has provided medical respite, counseling and help to members of the community traumatized by the decision and the unrest.
'People were helped'
"Monday was very, very hectic at times for the staff – very frightening because of the large crowds and the activity outside," Johnson said.
"We saw the movement of the masses past our church, we heard the gunshots," he said. For a period, he could not get into the area because of a lockdown.
"It was a very stressful time but a lot of people were helped," he said.
Down the road, families and children painted cheery scenes on the boarded-up windows of a row of shops before going home for Thanksgiving dinner.
"UNLESS someone LIKE YOU cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better," they painted next to a festive scene on a dental practice.
On a Chinese restaurant, children were painting a dragon.
"Seeing all this plywood was making us feel pretty down about it and putting the paint on there is just going to do something better," said Lou Bailey, 37, a project manager for a large company.
He said a home-school group of 10 families had swapped lessons for community work in recent days, sweeping away broken glass and beautifying shop fronts.
"Maybe... here in the community we can rebuild relationships and create lasting friendships, which in turn is going to change a lot in the long run," he said. – Rappler.com