Community gathers for Gratefull Thanksgiving meal

Nov. 22—Dalton resident Carolina Diaz and Rocky Face resident Marilyn Harrison hadn't met before, but on Monday they were having lunch together on Hamilton Street, talking like old friends.

"We met in line, and since we weren't with anyone else, we decided to eat together," said Diaz.

They were just two of more than 1,700 people who ate lunch at Gratefull, a community Thanksgiving meal complete with turkey and dressing, held in downtown Dalton. The event was organized by Believe Greater Dalton, a public-private partnership of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and local governments focused on six strategic areas to improve the community: educational outcomes, housing, entrepreneurship, economic development, downtown development and community pride.

It was the second time the group has hosted the event. The inaugural Gratefull was in 2019. The event was canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Believe Greater Dalton organized food drives for local food banks those years instead.

"I missed the first one," said Harrison. "But I saw the photos and read about it in the newspaper. It looked like a lot of fun, so when I saw they were doing it again, I knew I had to come."

Organizers blocked off Hamilton Street between Crawford Street and Gordon Street. Tables where volunteers served food donated by local restaurants — everything from turkey and dressing and roasted corn to tamales and black beans and a wide variety of desserts — were on one side of the street, and a long table for people to sit at was on the other side.

The event took place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"Things are going so well," said Allyson Coker, executive director of Believe Greater Dalton. "I can't believe it. We had people already lining up a little before 11 a.m."

A community member brought the idea for Gratefull to Believe Greater Dalton in 2018, based on an annual community dinner in Chattanooga. Several people active with Believe Greater Dalton and other community organizations volunteered at the Chattanooga dinner in 2018 to get a feel for what it takes to put on an event like this and decided they would like to try it here.

The goal of Gratefull is to bring the community together and help Dalton residents make new acquaintances, and the event drew a diverse group of people.

Almost 200 volunteers served food, kept the line running, helped people find a seat and cleaned up afterward.

Matt Barrett was one. He helped to slice pies and serve dessert.

"This community brought me out here," he said. "Anytime you get a chance to come together with others in the community like this you should take advantage of it."

Karina Silva was a "wayfinder," helping direct people to the different tables.

"I didn't come in 2019," she said. "But I wanted to help out and be part of this community. It's very exciting."

Marty Moss and Carol Godfrey were holding large balloons, directing people to where the line for food started on Crawford Street.

"Our company, Shaw Industries, wants us to be part of the community," said Moss. "They encourage us to volunteer, so here we are."

"Shaw wants us to volunteer, but they let us pick where that will be," said Godfrey. "This looked like a great event. It's a lot of fun, and it brings the community together. So when (Moss) suggested we come, I was all for it."