When God blesses you with food and tables and tents and volunteers, there’s only one thing to do.
“We’ve been blessed and want to be a blessing, so we’re throwing a community Thanksgiving dinner,” said Ansley Pope, the women and children’s director at the Garden City Rescue Mission, as she surveyed the grounds of the homeless shelter on Fenwick Street.
Some 300 to 400 people turned out for the free meal and clothing giveaway Wednesday afternoon. It was made possible thanks to the support of several area churches, Meybohm Realtors and many of the shelter’s residents, who volunteered.
“We couldn’t do it without their help,” said Keith Pope, the executive director.
Meybohm Realtors provided the turkey, and dozens of agents brought and served up home-cooked sides.
It’s a tradition that started six years ago.
“The number of people we’ve served has grown exponentially every year,” said Lelia Williams, the marketing coordinator for Meybohm Realtors, who baked more than 100 cupcakes, which were served up along heaping piles of red velvet cake, banana pudding, brownies and pie. “It’s a family thing for a lot of our agents. Everyone brings their kids and helps serve.”
Everybody benefits, too, said Ashley Thomas, the director of marketing at Meybohm Realtors in Augusta.
“You see how thankful everybody is,” she said. “It’s heartwarming.”
Cody Hall turned to Garden City’s 50-bed men’s shelter on Fenwick Street four months ago.
“I came here from the streets. I had some addiction problems,” he said. “The people here, they were a blessing to me.”
Many of the faces at Wednesday’s dinner were new, he said. They’re not residents at the mission, but tenants of the surrounding low-income housing communities.
“It’s nice because it gives us a chance to present the mission to them and talk to them about God,” he said. “They might not need us right now, but they know we’re here.”
That’s the aim, Ansley Pope said.
“We don’t want this to be just for the Garden City Rescue Mission,” she said. “There are a whole lot of people out there who are in need. You might not be homeless, but you’ve spent your every resource paying rent and clothing your children. You don’t have a lot of options for Thanksgiving dinner. That’s where we want to come in.”
As the line for food wrapped around the block, volunteers carried tables and chairs from Garden City’s chapel to the parking lot. Three rows of tables, long enough to seat 50 people each, had been assembled outside, but more were needed to accommodate the growing crowd.
“It gives me purpose,” Hall said after setting up another table for 10. “For a long time I had lost my purpose.”
Garden City is a family, he said, and this Thanksgiving “I’m thankful they’re the family I have to share Thanksgiving with. Without them, I would be under a bridge somewhere by myself.”