CommUnity Thanksgiving makes successful return

·4 min read
The serving line is pictured at the 2021 CommUnity Thanksgiving Celebration at The Venue at Coosa Landing.
The serving line is pictured at the 2021 CommUnity Thanksgiving Celebration at The Venue at Coosa Landing.

The CommUnity Thanksgiving Celebration was winding down, and a few final meal deliveries needed to be made. Craig Scott decided to take care of that chore before returning to The Venue at Coosa Landing to help with the cleanup process.

The final delivery was to “a young lady in a first-floor apartment in Gadsden,” recalled Scott, director of the Gadsden Public Library and vice chair of the CommUnity Thanksgiving board.

“She had requested two meals, and the instructions were to knock on the door and come in,” he said. “It raised my eyes a little, but I went in and heard her say ‘I’m around here.’ The woman was in her bedroom — and she had no legs. Her prosthetic legs were off to the side.”

Scott said the woman was alone, “no family that I know of,” and her home health nurses were off both Thanksgiving Day and Friday.

“I gave her four meals,” he said, “and she was going to share then with home health when they came on Saturday.

“That’s an example of why we do this.”

CommUnity Thanksgiving returned successfully for its 22nd edition in 2021, according to Darlene Harcrow, the board chair, and Scott, after being canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The annual event provides a full holiday meal for anyone who cares to show up and eat — rich or poor — and has become a gathering befitting the words that make up its name.

And because of a change in the way organizers measure how many people benefit from its offerings, its significance has been magnified.

Scott said he’d asked other members about “counting in a way we’ve never counted before.”

He added, “We give meals to the Salvation Army and the Love Center, as examples. We also give them leftovers, so people can eat for another week or longer, not just that day. So why not add that to the counts?”

Harcrow called it “a gift that keeps on giving.”

So, in addition to the 4,950 people actually served on Thanksgiving Day, organizers figure 3,834 others ultimately will be fed, for a total count of 8,784,

“We fed 6,836 in 2019, on the day of the event,” Scott said. “But we were short-changing ourselves going by the number of plates made.”

The new count verifies how event organizers maximized their resources. Harcrow said the budget was $30,000, which was expected to cover 7,000 meals.

However, the per meal food costs decreased from $3.67 in 2019 to $3.04 this year, helped by a change in the menu.

“Since the cost of turkey went through the roof, we moved to chicken and dressing along with a slice of ham, plus sides,” Harcrow said.

And a donation of chicken from employee-owned Alatrade in Albertville allowed organizers to reduce their meat order of ham, Scott said, which saved roughly $3,500.

This was the first CommUnity Thanksgiving since the event was restructured as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which basically stands on its own. It previously was under the United Way umbrella, at least as far as donations.

"We weren’t formalized," Scott said. “People had to get tax receipts from UW, they thought we were associated with them and people would tell us they donated through United Way.”

Event insurance also was obtained through the United Way; organizers purchased their own this time.

“This was with the United Way’s blessings,” Harcrow said. “They were all for it.”

COVID precautions were in place at the event. Hand sanitizer was on all tables and diners were socially distanced.

Scott said Deborah Gaither, director of the Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency, greeted volunteers at the door with aprons, gloves and hairnets, and had praise for the overall safety measures.

The event setup also was streamlined, with delivery drivers directed around the building to the pickup point, takeout orders distributed on the George Wallace Drive side of The Venue and the front entrance reserved for dine-in patrons.

Those included various group home residents. “It gives those people a chance to get out and have people love on them and be exposed to the world around them,” Harcrow said.

CommUnity Thanksgiving always attracts many volunteers; Harcrow said 1,272 people stepped up to help this year.

She and Scott praised the other board members: Delores Abney (secretary), John and Susan Minton (treasurers), Emma Carter (publicity), Gloria Hope, Dale Denham and Annie Guyton.

Guyton had been the event’s “chef” from the beginning, according to Scott, but had to miss this year because her husband was hospitalized.

“Dale Denham came in about a month and a half ago, wanted to do a motorcycle run for us,” he said. “We added him to the board, and when we found out he had experience in restaurants, he stepped into the kitchen and really came through for us.”

However, Harcrow cited what she called the real reason CommUnity Thanksgiving’s has become a local institution: “Without God, it wouldn’t be the success it’s been and feed the people it has.”

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Recapping CommUnity Thanksgiving 2021

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