Record number served meals [with gallery]

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 28, 2014


By 10:30 Thursday morning, a line of people waited at the end of buffet table inside the parish hall of St. Mary’s Episcopal where plates were being assembled.

At first blush, it might have seemed as if people showed up early for a Thanksgiving meal.

“It looked like people were here waiting for food,” said the Rev. Cindy Howard. “But those were the volunteers.”

Ten groups of volunteers delivered 246 of the 427 Thanksgiving meals served Thursday morning as part of the annual Jo’s Community Dinner event. Some, like the Riddle family, participated for the first time.


“We attend Hopewell Baptist Church, and we’d heard our pastor talk about what a blessing this is,” Roseann Riddle explained. “It’s been a year of change for us. We were going to be at home this year, so we wanted to share the meaning of Thanksgiving with our children, and teach them to serve.

So Roseann Riddle was joined by her husband, John, her children, Allie, Garrett and Chase, and their grandmother, Lillie. The family delivered 13 meals.

Each year, Claude Summerlin faithfully organizes the list of people to whom meals will be delivered, dividing the addresses geographically. With today’s GPS systems, finding addresses isn’t as challenging, but Betty Baldwin was certain she would be fine without electronic assistance.

“I’ve only been driving here about 55 years,” she said.

Baldwin volunteered to drive, and partnered with long-time volunteer Callen Woodard, 15, who took the meals to the doors of recipients.

Pam and Guy Wyche also are veteran volunteers.

“Usually, we meet our family, but if we are in town, we always come and do this,” Pam said.

“It just gives you a warm, holiday feeling,” Guy added.

Straughn freshman Jessica Aplin has volunteered at St. Mary’s Rice and Beans food distribution program in the past, but this was her first year to serve at Thanksgiving.

Thursday, she pent her morning serving yams and green beans

“It’s really a blessing to feel like you can help people,” she said.

Howard said this year’s crowd set a record.

“I do think it’s a function of the economy,” she said. “It has improved in many ways, but the lower end of the economic spectrum, it’s not improving.”

The church’s rice and beans program, which distributes food staples to those in need each month, and serves a hot breakfast to all who come, has raised awareness of the Thanksgiving and Christmas day outreach program, she said.

“There are a lot of familiar faces here,” she said. “But I am amazed by the volunteers.”

Tammy Portemont captains the kitchen. She and her crew cooked three cases of green beans; three cases of yams; 10 turkeys; 10 pans of dressing, and more than 400 rolls. Before the last plate was served, the green beans and yams had already been consumed.

They shopped on Monday; prepped on Tuesday; and took Wednesday off “to rest our backs.” Cooking began at 7 Thursday morning.

All involved in the work agreed that they were on the receiving end of the blessing.

“We are blessed have been able to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for so many, and to have been involved in the fellowship,” said Jan Morris, who manages the fundraising part of Jo’s Community Dinners. “We appreciate the support, and the help of all the volunteers.”

The annual effort is coordinated by St. Mary’s and supported by other churches, individuals and civic organizations. The group also will provide meals on Christmas day.