A Thanksgiving meal for the masses

Jessica Johnson Staff reporter

November 29, 2013

If the true meaning of Thanksgiving lies in giving thanks for abundant blessings, then hearts were overflowing at the 17th annual Community Thanksgiving Feast at First Baptist Church in Mount Airy.

Volunteers and community members joined together in celebration of Thanksgiving, at the meal hosted by internationally known blues singer Melva Houston.

At least 35 volunteers were on hand, assisting on every level with the community meal — carving turkeys, preparing plates both for in house dining and to go orders, refilling drinks, serving desserts, delivering meals, shaking hands, giving hugs, handing out donated food items — and every volunteer had a smile upon their faces.

Among the volunteers were many children and teenagers, brought by their parents to experience the true meaning of Thanksgiving — giving back to others, Christy Dowell said, who was volunteering at the Thanksgiving meal, along with her boyfriend Jamie Scott and their children, Shay Robinson, age 9; Trey Scott, age 11; Keyshon Oliver, age 7; and Kendrick Oliver. Dowell said her boyfriend’s family volunteers every year, and they invited her and her children to join them this year; she felt it was important to stress to their children the importance of giving back to the community and being thankful for their many blessings.

Marie Nicholson and her husband Donnie Nicholson were volunteering, and Marie said she was thankful to be able to attend the meal with her family three years ago, while her husband was deployed to Iraq as part of the army reserves. Since then, she has volunteered and was “so happy” to have her husband there with her. “It’s a good time to spend with the community,” Marie said, as she greeted another guest with her bright smile.

Erica Campbell and Louis Freeman were enjoying the meal with their two three-month-old twin girls, Anissa and Isabelle Freeman. Campbell said they were invited by Melva Houston, whom they met at the Blue House Art Gallery and Teaching Studio.

Only 30 minutes into the meal, the many donated pumpkin and sweet potato pies stood up to their tradition as the top Thanksgiving dessert and were already gone. In a true testament to the community spirit and generous hearts of this area, a last minute trip to Food Lion on West Pine St. by a volunteer resulted the store manager, Mike, donating an entire case of frozen pumpkin pies, which were greatly appreciated by those at First Baptist, several who said it just didn’t feel like Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.

This was the first year of volunteering for Tom Beckom and his wife Lore, both who said they would be back for what will now be a Thanksgiving tradition. Beckom said he had just put in a call to Mount Airy Police Department’s dispatch, who announced to officers that food was available at First Baptist for anyone who needed it. Lore said she was headed off to make a delivery of hot meals to Northern Hospital of Surry County.

Houston said she wanted to put the word out for more volunteers next year, and an invitation for people to donate cooked turkeys. “We already have our sights set on next year,” Houston relayed.

“I want to personally say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to all the volunteers and those who donated,” Houston expressed. “Thank them so much, from the bottom of my heart.”

Donors included Food Lion on West Pine Street; Chis Wisart from Trio Restaurant and Bar, who prepared the green beans; Walmart of Mount Airy, who supplied 30 frozen turkeys; and other local businesses. The meal has been carried out every year since 1996, when it was started by a group known as Citizens of a Brighter Tomorrow, made up of Houston and others, many who are still involved.

Houston said the community dinner was for everyone: “we are feeding the masses,” she said with a bright smile, gesturing around the room, and look at this, everyone with a smile on their face. This is what Thanksgiving is all about, and I am so thankful for the volunteers who came out and those who made donations.”

Reach Jessica Johnson at 336-719-1933 or