'It's a beautiful thing': MUST hosts Thanksgiving lunch for those in need

Nov. 24—MARIETTA — Carrying plates piled high with turkey and green beans, MUST Ministries volunteers on Thursday continued their annual tradition of feeding hundreds of people for Thanksgiving.

This year was the group's first Thanksgiving in its new shelter off of Bells Ferry Road, and MUST made good use of it. In the first hour after opening the doors, the nonprofit had already fed more than 100 people with dozens more expected.

"We had our last Thanksgiving at the old campus, and as we were designing this, our thought process was, we can't wait to serve a community meal here. Our first Thanksgiving here — phenomenal," said Keo Buford, MUST's senior program director for emergency housing.

In addition to the people who live in the shelter, MUST opened its doors to its outreach clients who live off-site. Buford said the meal came after a difficult stretch for Marietta's homeless residents, who endured freezing temperatures last week.

"For one week straight — temperatures were 35 degrees and below — every day for that week, (the shelter) was full," Buford said.

Buford added that MUST had enough food catered this year that attendees could get a second helping if needed.

Lynn Archer was one of several volunteers helping to pass out food. She said she's been a supporter of MUST for about 20 years, but this year, decided she needed to do more.

"It's really easy to write a check, but ... you've got to get the sweat equity. It's just — it's so important," Archer said. "Until you come out here and see it, it doesn't really hit you. On a day when so many people have plenty, and go home and eat all these big meals and everything, you've got a lot of people here who may not have had a meal."

In between passing around desserts, MUST CEO Ike Reighard said volunteers like Archer are what make the annual meal possible.

"This is a day that everybody thinks about family, and we think about how much we're blessed with," he said. "It's a privilege and an honor to do this. But it's also very humbling, knowing that any one of us could find ourselves in that type of situation."

Leslie Hopgood said eating at MUST for Thanksgiving has been an annual tradition for her, as most of her family lives in Arizona. Formerly homeless herself, she said having a safe, warm place to come for the holiday is invaluable.

"A lot of people, they live in tents. I used to live in a tent," said Hopgood, who now has permanent housing in Kennesaw. "...So to have somewhere to go and have a hot meal is huge. It's really nice."

Added MUST client Jamal Green, sitting beside Hopgood, "There's beautiful families out here. You see all the staff that's just giving back, you know what I mean? It's a beautiful thing, a really beautiful thing ... Everybody's just coming together like it's a community, man. It's really beautiful to me. I love it."