By Sarrah Peters, News Editor
This year, CommUnity Thanksgiving, a local Thanksgiving meal that is free to everyone, celebrates its 20th anniversary.
This year’s meal will be served at Gadsden’s new facility, The Venue, on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 22. The Thanksgiving feast starts at 10 a.m. and will be open until 2 p.m. The event has a pick-up option and the pick-up window will open at 10:30 a.m. Transport to the venue or delivery can be arranged by calling 256-546-4357.
Community Thanksgiving was started by Pastor Joe Simmons at New Liberty Tabernacle of Praise in 1998. Although the event quickly outgrew the church, the community began coming together to continue offering the holiday meal.
“Craig Scott with the Gadsden Public Library got some of his researchers to do some research and, by far, we fed more than anybody in the state,” said event coordinator Vicki Lister. “It’s the largest Thanksgiving mission in the state of Alabama. To me, that says so much about our community.”
In the spirit of community schools and local clubs have contributed to the event. Etowah County Schools made placemats and some centerpieces. The Gadsden Public Library’s Teen Zone is also making centerpieces for the event.
To celebrate 20 years, CommUnity Thanksgiving is adding more entertainment. Buster Porch is returning to play music for the event. This year a special guest performer will have two 30- to 40-minute sets. Tom the Turkey and several Indians and Pilgrims will be at the event and provide photo or selfie opportunities for attendees. There will be a Kids’ Corner with coloring and crafts.
Last year, 5,225 plates were prepared for CommUnity Thanksgiving. Lister said the entire event costs around $18,000. To feed the crowd, 1,700 pounds of turkey will be delivered. The Gadsden Job Corps recently received ingredients to make cornbread, which then will be used to make 250 pans of dressing. Gadsden Regional Medical Center, one of the event’s sponsors, has supplied green beans for the dinner. Cranberry sauce, a sweet potato dish and rolls with cake for dessert will also be served.
However, CommUnity Thanksgiving is more than just a meal to many. The event offers fellowship, so Lister encourages people to dine in.
“This is a mission, and we do want the opportunity to talk to people,” said Lister.
Volunteers will begin preparing for the meal on Monday, Nov. 19 by accepting deliveries. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they will be chopping celery and onions and beginning to cook. Volunteers prepare plates, greet attendees, prepare food, deliver meals, clean-up and more. Groups from churches, local high school teams, clubs and many individuals have offered their services for the event.
“Our volunteers come from every neighborhood throughout this county, from every different church, every different school, every different club, every different economic background,” said Lister. “I feel like it’s a very divisive time, politically, and this group of people from so many different and varied backgrounds come together and work together and have so much fun. Our volunteers love it.”
Despite good response, volunteers are still needed. Lister said that additional heavy lifters early Thursday morning as well as greeters, delivery drivers and clean-up workers are needed. Volunteers that can speak both Spanish and English are needed to help with translating. Volunteers can sign-up at signup.com/go/QYThXAul or by calling 256-504-2290.
Donations are still needed and welcome. With only $10, CommUnity Thanksgiving can provide meals for a family of four. Donations can be given through PayPal at Paypal.me/commthanks; mailed to United Way, P.O. Box 1175, Gadsden, AL, 35902, with Community Thanksgiving written on the memo line; or delivered in person. Event sponsors include Greer Building Contractors, Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Campers Unlimited and Holiday Inn Express & Suites.