Frances Jones would have been 66 on Saturday. Typically for her birthday, her family would go to her house, where she already had decorated and cooked, even though it was her day. She had an open-door policy. Anyone who needed it could join in on the Christmas Eve and birthday celebration.
When she died, family members wanted her giving nature and spirit to live on through them. Now, her family spends her birthday serving meals to the needy in her honor.
“She was the person who everyone came to,” said Cindy Perry, Jones’ daughter. “We wanted to do this for her.”
This is the second year that Perry, her sister Tina Tusing and daughter Alexis Jones have spent Christmas Eve volunteering for The Salvation Army’s annual community Christmas dinner at the Center for Hope.
Salvation Army chef Tyrone Tucker said he had more than 100 pounds of ham and 200 pieces of chicken to feed a crowd of between 800 to 1,000 people.
Tucker was all smiles behind the line, serving the ham, rosemary chicken, dressing, green beans, peach cobbler and more.
The meal was open to all those in need and did not require any form of identification. There was a line out the door starting about 1 p.m., even though the food was not served until 3 p.m.
The Jones family members, with tears in their eyes, helped in any way they could.
“It is really touching, and it’s really fun,” Alexis said.
“I think she would be really proud,” Perry said. “If she was alive, she’d be here with us.”
Another volunteer, Eddie Freeman from East St. Louis, Ill., is a graduate of the Salvation Army program. He now has a steady construction job and is more than happy to give back to the program.
“This place helped save my life,” he said. “It means everything.”
Fellow graduate Michael Quattlemaum, of Queens, N.Y., is now one of the Salvation Army’s top bell ringers. He is living at the Center and said he was thankful to be part of Saturday’s festivities.
“I came here in tears,” he said. “I slipped, and this place put me back on track.”