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Southern Indiana woman hosts 'Thanksgiving Stranger Dinner' for those struggling with mental health

Valerie Cole hosts regular events to help people who are lonely or struggling with their mental health get out of the house and enjoy some company.

TELL CITY, Ind. — A southern Indiana woman held a special Thanksgiving meal for those who are lonely or struggling with their mental health.

Valerie Cole of Tell City hosts events with her group Task of Mind to help people get out of the house to overcome their loneliness or other struggles. She started the group after losing several friends and family members to suicide.

“Of course I’m not a professional,” Cole told WFIE-TV in Evansville. “I just do it because I like people, and I like people to feel like they have someone. That’s why I say this is for people who need people, and I can be their people.”

For the first time this Thanksgiving, Cole hosted dinner for the group, bringing together people for her first "Thanksgiving Stranger Dinner." Many of the people who attended had never met before.

Cole cooked most of the food herself, with volunteers helping round out the menu. They've hosted three Christmas meals, but had never done Thanksgiving for the group.

Some guests dropped into the First Baptist Church in Tell City to grab food and go, but others stayed to enjoy the meal and the company. 

“We always enjoy being around people and meeting new people and nobody is a stranger to us,” said Earl Parker, who attended the dinner with his wife, Deb.

Cole said her experiences coping with her own mental health push her to watch out for others.

“Sometimes it’s just about fun and getting out of the house and knowing that there’s other people because when you have mental health issues, you kind of just feel like you’re the only one that has mental health issues,” she said. “I always felt alone and now that I do this, I don’t feel so alone. There’s a lot of people out there that want to be seen, and I see them.”

If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.