Nearly 600 people visited the gym on Monday and Tuesday for a free, hot Christmas meal, hosted by Renovation Ministries and the city of Anniston’s Good Choices Program.
Twyla Knight, Renovation Ministries administrative director and organizer of the event, said putting together the Christmas meal has been a dream of hers for several years and she’s already making plans to host another next year.
Knight said she was surprised by the number of people who volunteered their time on Christmas to prepare and serve meals and hand out care packages. She estimated receiving help from more than 100 volunteers from Renovation Ministries, local churches and the Good Choices Program. Knight said she was given a $3,000 grant from the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund to purchase enough turkey, green beans, cornbread, sweet potatoes and rolls to feed several hundred people.
“We fed about 300 people yesterday,” Knight said. “We had some leftover meals so we took them to Cooper Homes. We knocked on doors and gave them to people.”
Knight said volunteers gave away 100 care packages filled with toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and can openers to those in need. They also handed out coats, blankets, shoes and tarps to people who may be without a home this Christmas.
Chris Terrell, director of Renovation Ministries, said the ministry wants to show the love of God in the community.
“So many times at Christmas we’re all about getting and our ministry is focused on giving back to the community any way that we can,” Terrell said.
Volunteers happy to give back
Members of the Hillcrest Baptist Church in Anniston helped prepare the meal and donated a “whole truckload” of cookies, Susan DuMond said. DuMond, a manager at a Cracker Barrel restaurant, met Knight shortly after Thanksgiving at the restaurant. The women started talking about the Christmas meal and DuMond offered her help. Other church members quickly followed suit.
Hillcrest member Cathi Thurston of Jacksonville said she was happy to volunteer because Christmas is giving gifts to others.
“This is the best gift you can give to someone, the giving of yourself,” Thurston said.
Steven Folks, director of the Parks and Recreation Department and overseer of the Good Choices Program, said the children in the program volunteered their time and also donated money to buy coats for 10 school children.
“Christmas is about what you can do for others … We’re teaching to give back,” Folks said.
Lisa Houzah, a first-time volunteer through the Good Choices Program, surrounded by people wishing one another “Merry Christmas,” spoke with tears in her eyes about the importance of making time to help others.
“I went home and looked in my refrigerator and asked myself what I wanted to eat. There were families here yesterday that couldn’t say that,” Houzah said.
Houzah said she’s made it her New Year’s resolution to give back to her community, which she was happy to start early.
Six-year-old Ka’Mari Reed of Anniston volunteered to wash dishes and prepare plates of food through the Good Choices Program. Reed said it made her feel good to help out. Her mother, Traci McMurray, and her older sister, Marquita McMurray, also volunteered to spend their Christmas helping those in need.
A Christmas helping hand
Tamya Thompson, of Anniston, said she felt like Santa Claus with her arms full of books, coats, blankets and cookies to give to her family.
“It’s been a good Christmas. It’s very fortunate that people can come here and get stuff for Christmas that don’t have anything,” Thompson said.
For one family of 11, the Golden Springs Good Choices Program was able to make Tuesday a Christmas they’ll cherish. Sylvia Davis, a single mother of 10 children whose ages range from 6 to 21, was not only given food to feed her family, but gifts on her children’s Christmas wish lists as well.
“I was not expecting this,” Davis said. “I thought they were bringing the kids out for dinner … I didn’t see this coming.”
Davis said this Christmas there wasn’t enough money to go around for all her children. The Good Choices Program came to her aid with wrapped clothes, toys, a gaming system and two televisions to give to the Davis family.
“This is a blessing,” Davis said with tears spilling down her smiling cheeks. “I’m overwhelmed and I appreciate it.”
Staff Writer Rachael Griffin: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @RGriffin_Star.