By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal
While the streets of Tupelo, Sherman, Fulton and Okolona were quiet on Thursday, there were some places in those cities that were bustling, loud and rowdy.
Those places were Tupelo’s Salvation Army, the West Jackson Street Baptist Church, Rick’s BBQ & Catering, Cravin’ Catfish and the Excel Commons – all packed with people ready to serve and ready to eat.
Churches come together
At 9 a.m. Thursday, Tupelo’s West Jackson Street Baptist Church kitchen and auditorium were a blur of chaotic order.
“We need more dressing,” someone hollered out of the auditorium, where volunteers were packing Thanksgiving lunches, to the volunteers in the kitchen.
Empty and full pans of food were steadily being brought back and forth, by young and old, black and white hands alike.
Glenda Payne, coordinator of Citizens on the Move to Evangelize, smiled as she saw the action.
“We’ve never had this much food, or this many young people,” she said. “Our young people doubled up.”
Payne and other volunteers with Citizens on the Move to Evangelize have been serving Thanksgiving meals for 21 years. A host of churches, including West Jackson Baptist, Harrisburg Baptist, Temple of Compassion and Deliverance, Victory Temple Holiness Church and several others, participate each year.
She estimated they would serve more than 500 people in area jails, nursing homes and hospitals, as well as anyone else who was hungry.
Payne said she was proud to serve, because she was once on the receiving end.
“It’s a boomerang effect. When you give, you receive,” she said, tears welling in her eyes.
All in the family
For the Leathers family, who runs Rick’s BBQ & Catering in Fulton, Thanksgiving is about expanding their own family holiday.
At about 10 a.m., Rick and Joni Leathers and their son, Brandon, as well as an assembly line of volunteers, were steadily filling up orders to be picked up or delivered.
In the back, Brandon juggled about six pans of dressing – but he made about 44 pans total.
They served 630 Thanksgiving meals this year.
“This is our Thanksgiving,” she said.
“It’s our volunteers’ Thanksgiving, too,” Rick added. “We’re all together.”
In Okolona, at the Excel Commons, about 11 a.m. was the calm between the storms.
Volunteers from across the community began packing up carry-out orders at 9 a.m., but things slowed down before the team served lunch.
Coordinator Sister Liz Brown said they sent out a little more than 100 orders that morning, and knew they’d have about as many to feed at noon.
Brown said she was thankful she was able to do something for her community.
“I feel like we’ve been so blessed. God has just seemed to provide,” she said. “We’ve been given so much that you really do have to give back.”
Brown and her crew of volunteers have been serving Thanksgiving meals for 21 years.
When lunch was over, the servers celebrated the holiday together.
Noon was the busy hour at Cravin’ Catfish in Sherman.
Owner Becky Hegan and her husband, Gerald, have opened their doors to anyone who wanted a Thanksgiving meal for the last two years.
“Last year we fed around 300,” Gerald said, “but we’ve fed over 600 this year.”
Gerald said they serve Thanksgiving as a way to serve God.
“We did this for the Lord,” he said. “We feel like God has blessed us and our business, and we’re trying to reflect on that.”
By 12:45 p.m., volunteers at The Salvation Army in Tupelo were packing up food and clearing away tables after feeding more than 3,200.
More than 230 volunteers helped at Tupelo’s Salvation Army Thanksgiving this year, said Major Sue Dorman.
Some volunteers were there at 6 a.m. to start cooking; others were wrapping up Angel Tree gifts.
“We try to use the volunteers in every area,” she said.
She said she and all of her volunteers had fun on Thanksgiving, despite all of the work.
“I’m thankful because I have the privilege of serving,” Dorman said.
But, wrapping up the day, she said, she was tired, as were her volunteers.
“It’s a good kind of tired,” she said. “You look back at the day and say, ‘I’ve accomplished something.’”