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'All this food'

Volunteers work to guarantee no one misses holiday meal

community thanksgiving

Keatta Ashford sets up the dessert plates during the Community Thanksgiving meal at Victory Headquarters Christian Center in Anniston. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

Briana Harper loves Thanksgiving, but there’s one thing about the holiday that makes her restless. 

“I just always felt a little selfish sitting at home with all this food,” she said. 

Harper and about  a dozen other volunteers shook any holiday guilt Thursday by gathering at Victory Headquarters Christian Fellowship in Blue Mountain, to prepare 100 Thanksgiving dinners for a two-hour, community Thanksgiving meal. 

Charity groups for the past two weeks have been serving holiday meals available to all comers. Sometimes those early Thanksgivings are targeted toward people in deep poverty. Sometimes the aim is to bind the community together. 

For the meal at Victory the goal is to reach anyone who, for whatever reason, can’t get to a real Thanksgiving dinner on the holiday itself. People without homes. People with no family left. People with more family than they can conveniently cook for. Harper said she expected to bring take-out dinners to older people who couldn’t get out and young moms with lots of kids. 

“If you’ve got a baby and a toddler, you can’t cook all this,” she said. 

Bobby Hairston of Anniston was one of the first people to show up when the doors opened at 11 a.m. 

“I worked late last night and I don’t have any family here, so when somebody told me there was a dinner here I thought I’d show up,” said Hairston, who said he worked for a drug rehab organization. 

Asked what he enjoyed most about Thanksgiving when was with family, Hairston said that as a child he enjoyed hunting rabbits after the Thanksgiving meal. 

An aversion to lazy holiday afternoons seemed to run strong among volunteers at the dinner. 

“If I wasn’t here, I’d be doing pretty much the same thing somewhere else,” said Taurean Hall, one of the Victory volunteers. Hall said he works as a counselor for young people, on a freelance basis, and would normally be working with kids on the holiday. 

Harper said the meal is named for her grandfather, Henry C. Gregory.

“He loved Thanksgiving,” said Harper’s father, Bishop Charles Gregory, pastor of Victory Headquarters. “Every year in Montgomery, he would give away turkeys to so many people in the city. He’d have a gospel singing. And he’d always have a big dinner the night before the holiday.”

Twenty miles east of Victory, another group of volunteers pulled together another holiday meal. At Flora’s Table in Heflin, volunteers served 59 dinners by 2.p.m. to people who’d come to a local charity, Hearts of Cleburne, for help earlier in the year.

“It’s people who’ve needed food assistance, or maybe assistance with travel for cancer treatments,” said Caron Duckworth, owner of the restaurant. Duckworth said the idea for the meal came from Adam Pelewski, a manager for an Atlanta-based Internet company who recently moved to Heflin. Pelewski, she said, wanted to give people a chance to eat the holiday meal in a cozy setting if they didn’t have one.

“This year has been a good year for me and I wanted to give something back,” said Pelewski. He paid for much of the meal, along with donations from local grocery stores. 

Like the volunteers at Victory, workers at the Flora’s Table event seemed to prefer serving to staying home on the holiday. Asked what she’d be doing on a normal Thanksgiving, Duckworth chuckled. 

“I’d probably still be asleep,” she said. 

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.