Organizers are holding their breath as a decrease in donations threatens the viability of an annual Thanksgiving tradition in Mount Airy.
Darris Wilkins has been a part of the annual Thanksgiving meal at First Baptist Church since its inception in 1997 and took over organizing the event a couple of years ago. As the event comes up for the 20th time, she fears the donations for the annual Thanksgiving meal may not be there.
Wilkins said the meal began as a partnerships between multiple churches. Those churches include many different denominations and span across the racial makeup of the area.
“It started as a Friends of the Burned Churches movement,” Wilkins said of the group of churches now dubbed Friends of a Brighter Community.
She said the group originally provided funding to churches which had been burned as a result of a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Once damages were repaired, the group turned toward providing a community feast.
“Eventually, we decided to do the meal in a traditional form at Thanksgiving,” explained Wilkins.
For 19 years, the group of churches fed between 260 and 400 people on Thanksgiving, said Wilkins. Meals included the normal fixings like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
However, 2016 is presenting some challenges for the group.
“We are having problems getting donations,” explained Wilkins on Friday. “We usually prepare 30 turkeys, and so far we only have 10.”
Wilkins said the group’s issue in garnering donations is multi-faceted. Some businesses now require a tax identification number before they will donate to a group. Others simply don’t have the available funds to make donations as they have in the past, and Wal-Mart has halted its practice of price matching.
That stated, some local businesses continue to step up to the plate, said Wilkins. Miss Angel’s Heavenly Pies is donating some desserts. Olympia Restaurant will provide potatoes. A local chef is making green beans, and an anonymous donor has offered up cranberry sauce.
“We want this dinner to continue,” said Wilkins. “It really has become a staple in the community.”
Wilkins noted she and other volunteers will begin cooking two to three days prior to the Thanksgiving meal, but if there’s not enough to cook, there is only so much she can do.
“There is still a great need for donations,” said Wilkins, noting that turkeys, stuffing, chicken broth, desserts and drinks would be especially helpful.
“We don’t want anybody to go away hungry that day,” remarked Wilkins.
For Wilkins, the day is one of great importance, as she has spent the past 19 Thanksgiving Days preparing and serving the meal, which is scheduled on Nov. 24 from noon until 3 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Mount Airy.
“I love doing this,” explained Wilkins. “After 20 years, everybody there has become like family.”
To make a donation, contact Wilkins at 341-0368 or God’s Helping Hands at 719-1551.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.