By Cleve Bryan , Justin Udo

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) – Hundreds lined the walkway to the Battleship New Jersey Thanksgiving morning to show appreciation to veterans and active duty service members.

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“I made turkey cupcakes to kind of give the word that I’m thankful for them,” says Cristal Bluhm from Riverside who came to the Thanksgiving Day Military Dinner last year and brought her friend Vanessa Clark this year.

“I’m Thankful for my family and the people who serve our country,” says Clark.

Onboard the Battleship there were patriotic songs sung by former Miss New Jersey Jill Horner and many speeches full of thanks to service members.

An army unit from the Virgin Islands currently at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst preparing for deployment got a taste of a Thanksgiving meal with all our region’s trimmings.

“What we usually eat is pretty different from what’s on my plate right now,” says Sgt Aidza Stapleton.

Next to her, Sgt Malissa Hanley says despite feeling cold from the northern climate, her unit feels holiday warmth far from home.

“I’m homesick but we have our friends here and our family and now New Jersey as our family too,” says Hanley.

Airforce Lieutenant Mike Sare, his wife, their two sons — an infant and a toddler — are a long way from their homw in Rexville, Idaho.

“The occasion is just as special being with this group of people,” Sare said, “because the military is our family.

Lieutenant Sare said the way this community has welcomed him and his family almost makes him forget that he’s so far from home.

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“It’s an honor and it means so much that somebody would organize an event like this,” he said.  “It makes the Service that much more special that people care.”

Part of the military family includes veterans who live in Camden and were invited to the meal by the Camden County Veterans Affairs.

Some of those who joined in the meal like Bill Clark recently or currently battle homelessness.

“There’s a lot of us out there and as long as we acknowledge it and try and get these numbers down get these vets in some homes, train them and get them out on jobs, they’d have a good thing going.”

The plates consisted of the usual Thanksgiving fair, like Turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, but Sergeant Garcia said this year’s dinner was really humbling.

“It feels good that the veterans and military community are so welcomed,” he said, “and thanked for all we’ve done.”

With food and fellowship many shared what their thankful for this Thanksgiving. The Spevak family who organized the military meal for the 10th year is thankful for all the volunteers.

The response is incredible, year after year folks give up their Thanksgiving morning and spend it with us and our soldiers and that’s really what the essence of Thanksgiving is – giving back. We’re very proud to do it,” says Marshall Spevak.

After their meals, the military guests were treated to music and refreshments.

People are encouraged to come out next year to help welcome the military and make it a family tradition.

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