11/22/06 — Volunteers make sure needy will have meal Thanksgiving

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Volunteers make sure needy will have meal Thanksgiving

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 22, 2006 1:45 PM

The regulars at Goldsboro's Community Soup Kitchen might as well be a family.

From the same seats they have taken each day before, they dine, share stories and dream of better weeks to come.

But for Frank Exler and others who gathered Tuesday for a Thanksgiving meal, this particular day was special.

"It's a blessing," he said.

More than 100 plates stacked with turkey, dressing and all the trimmings were prepared for the lunch, Soup Kitchen director Dorecia Benton said.

"You never know," Ms. Benton said when asked how many people she thought would show. "I'd rather have too much than not enough."

The leftovers will make the "blessed day" that much better for those who came out, she said -- another meal for those who would otherwise go hungry.

"Some people when they come to lunch (here), it's the only meal they have all day," Ms. Benton said. "We think about things like, 'I wonder what I'll fix up for dinner tonight.' Their life is not patterned like that. It's survival for them. Here they're getting a nutritional meal at least once a day, and that's what's important."

That is especially true this Thanksgiving. While many families will enjoy leftovers for days, the area's needy will still have to come up with a next meal, Ms. Benton said.

She said she hopes the Soup Kitchen will fill that need. The kitchen will be open Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m. to noon.

Now in its 27th year, the Soup Kitchen's success is attributed to open hearts and wallets across the community, she added.

The generosity of people donating and volunteering has grown -- especially around the holidays, Ms. Benton said. "Some people come to the door and say, 'I want to help. What do you need?' Others want to be anonymous when they give the $200 donation it takes to sponsor a meal for the day. Those donations are often made in someone else's honor -- another sort of giving, Ms. Benton said.

One contributor recently sponsored a meal "for all the Seymour Johnson (Air Force Base) deployed personnel."

"I think it's wonderful as a gift to give somebody. It's a gift given twice," Ms. Benton said.

And for this year's holiday meals, the contributions are coming in steadily.

"One man took me shopping for food and supplies last year, and he's going to do it again this year," Ms. Benton said. "That's what's so great about what we do. No two days are the same. What we do is the same, but the volunteers and the donations and how they contribute changes."

She said the kitchen will also need help as the next holiday nears.

"We are always in need of funding, food and supplies," Ms. Benton said.

Across Wayne County at the Hispanic Community Development Center in Dudley, what started as a small holiday food drive turned into something much bigger -- more than 50 full Thanksgiving feasts for underprivileged families.

"The turkey dinners are going all over the county -- Fremont, Pikeville, Mount Olive," Wayne County Democratic Party Chairman Gaspar Gonzalez said. "This is a community effort. It's for everybody."

Each dinner was packed complete with sweet potatoes, beans, corn, tortillas, cakes, cooking oil and seasoning -- and the frozen bird, of course.

"Case Farms donated these turkeys," Willie Cartagena said. "We get support from people all over. It's a great thing."

In Mount Olive, Lula Newkirk at Helping Hands Mission was busy preparing boxes of her own. She expected to deliver 11 boxes of non-perishable foods to people in need.

But the demand is expected to increase when Christmas rolls around, she said. By then, she expects to need food for at least 100 boxes.

Most of the food will come from area churches, the AARP, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Southern Wayne High School, Ms. Newkirk added.

"Area Churches In Action is always bringing in food," she said.

The Hispanic Community Development Center also has a food bank. Their turkey dinners will feed the hungry for one day, but Cartagena, Gonzalez and Wayne Action Group for Economic Solvency (WAGES) parent involvement coordinator Daniel Hooper said their goal is to reduce hunger in the county all holiday season long.

And so they continue to stack canned food, bread, water, and cooking supplies on the shelves within the center's makeshift food bank.

Working to help those in need is work that never tires, Cartagena said. But that's what makes it so worthwhile.

"We don't want to get rich, we don't even want to get paid," he said. "We just want to help the people."

And every day, more and more people need it, Hooper added.

"It's unfortunate that we have people in this country who are hungry," he said.

"Especially on a day like this Thanksgiving," Gonzalez added.