Nearly 500 people received a free turkey Monday for their Thanksgiving dinner at the annual James Brown Turkey Giveaway.
Among them was Lamar Smith, of Augusta, who has received a turkey every year since Brown started the event 21 years ago. He spoke with Brown several times before the internationally known entertainer passed away on Christmas Day 2006.
Because he is on a fixed income, Smith said that he wasn’t able to afford a Thanksgiving turkey.
“It’s a good thing for poor people that don’t have that much. How the economy’s been and everything, it’s helping a lot of people out. He was always about helping,” Smith said.
Starting at 9 a.m., family members of the late entertainer, along with students from the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils, local representatives from the Georgia Senate and House, and representatives and other volunteers handed out turkeys to those in need at Dyess Park on James Brown Boulevard.
The Rev. Al Sharpton was scheduled to attend, but did not arrive before the giveaway concluded.
Family members are pleased to continue the tradition. When Venisha Brown, Brown’s daughter, arrived at 6 a.m., she said there was already a line.
“You really see the appreciation in these people’s faces. One turkey at a time, we’re actually making a difference in people’s lives, that they’re able to have a happy Thanksgiving. It’s not just about receiving. That’s what my dad was all about. You feel good by being able to give,” Venisha Brown said.
Dr. Yamma Brown, Brown’s daughter, said that it “means so much for her to continue on with what her dad started so many years ago.”
“It’s just a blessing to see this go on year after year,” Yamma Brown said. “All the volunteers, everybody coming together in his name, in his honor and what he stood for. He was very passionate about giving back, loved this community, loved where he came from. It just meant everything to him to be able to do the turkey and toy giveaways every year.”
Joan Martin, of Martinez, was the first person in line at the annual turkey giveaway. A first-time recipient, she showed up at 4 a.m. because organizers told her to come early. The 75-year-old wouldn’t have been able to afford a turkey because she is on a fixed income, she said.
“I’m so grateful. I’m very, very grateful. They’ve got everything so organized. I’m taking it all in. It’s just overwhelming to me,” Martin said.
It was also Ephriam Williams’ first time attending the giveaway. The Hephzibah resident is unemployed and couldn’t afford a turkey this year, he said.
“This has brought a lot of happiness to people that are not able to buy anything,” Williams said. “It’s a beautiful thing he’s (Brown) been doing for the community. A lot of times, we look to celebrities for their entertainment, not their donations. When they donate, it just brings them closer to being like we are. It humanizes them.”
For the first time, recipients had to pre-register for turkeys because the Brown family learned that people were getting two and three turkeys per household at past giveaways. Requiring pre-registration cut down on excess, said Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas. In the past, the annual turkey giveaway handed out 800 to 1,000 turkeys a year.
“It eliminated extra turkeys that were not needed because there was so much abuse,” said Brown-Thomas, who added the giveaway was made possible by the donations of sponsors.
Local residents could also pre-register an hour before the giveaway. To qualify, they had to provide ID and a utility bill.