Local helpers come to rescue of Richmond holiday dinners for all
Curbside delivery is among the features at this year’s events
Rounding the corner of North Third Street onto
East Marshall Street, heading toward the Greater Richmond Convention Center, the scent was unmistakable: Thanksgiving dinner.
Namely, 320 turkeys and hundreds of pounds of stuffing, green beans and ham, said Brian Daigneault, executive chef for the center — all of it provided by Aramark, a food services company.
Inside the center, volunteers from The Giving Heart scooped turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes and green beans into black trays before sealing them up with a lid.
A little more than 15 minutes before doors were supposed to open for The Giving Heart’s Community Thanksgiving Feast, a socially distanced line wrapped around the building. Among those in line were friends Barbara Jackson, 59, and Nathan Ellis, 49.
“I can’t see my family right now,” Jackson said as she sat next to the building. “But I’m good. And my family’s called me, but I’m blessed. I’m happy to be here for Thanksgiving.”
This year for Ellis, he has a steady place to live in the city’s South Side. He was sad he couldn’t eat his meal at the center, but planned on taking it home and warming it up.
It wasn’t normal, but it was something. The pandemic threatened the notion of a Thanksgiving dinner for many in need across the city, but local groups that typically offer meals found a way to make it happen.
The Giving Heart has been hosting its annual feast since 2005. Typically, people come in and all eat at tables together. This is the first year that founder Vickie Nielson had to do curbside delivery. It’s back to the normal model next year, she said.
“This is one way ... to just let others know that they’re not forgotten.”
Sandra Antoine, a board member at The Giving Heart
The organization didn’t start planning the event until the end of August.
“I was so on the fence about whether we should do it, but you know, [I just] kept hearing over and over [about] the need in the city,” Nielson said.
It’s one thing to give people bags of food, she said, “but to give them something hot that they can eat right then, you know, I think that that helps a lot of people.”
In a way, Nielson said that planning this year was easier since they had so many people who wanted to help; some volunteers had to be turned away.
There were extra steps, like buying trays that could be microwaved. Instead of tables inside the exhibition hall, there were clear plastic partitions for people to weave through after having their temperature taken. People were able to pick up bags of clothes and food before being handed their bagged meal.
Red marks on the floor ensured that people stood 10 feet apart as they waited in line. On their way out, they could get a flu shot if they felt inclined.
Nielson said they there were more than 2,400 meal requests by Wednesday. Organizers had the ability to feed a little over 3,000.
“It’s just being willing to serve the people in any capacity, and this is one way on Thanksgiving to just let others know that they’re not forgotten,” said Sandra Antoine, a Giving Heart boardmember. “Now, there are a lot of lonely people, under the norm, but in these circumstances, there’s a lot of hurt ... people yearning for some brightness in their day, and what better opportunity?”
In the parking lot of Diversity Richmond on Thursday, people drove in to pick up plates of turkey, mac ’n’ cheese and sweet potato pie from
Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen in an event organized by Black Pride RVA and the Laughing Gull Foundation.
It’s the second year the event has been held. Last year, 150 people sat down to eat and some carried out, said Cheezi Farmer, who is board chair for Diversity Richmond and helped organize the event.
“For us, it means we get to live into our mission of fostering healthy
connections,” said the Rev. Lacette Cross from Black Pride RVA, another organizer. “People need to know that they can be around people that love them exactly for who they are. And we can give food to people, and so even
in this pandemic, people know that there’s a group of folks that are, you know, care for them, and that we can feed somebody, even the small way, so it means a lot to us.”
Giving has found its way around the city. Chris Pope, who sat on the sidewalk charging his phone at an outside plug across the street from The Giving Heart’s event, said he came across two vans full of hot pizzas by Rite Aid coming from work the other night.
He got some pizza. And eventually, he said, he was going to go get a meal from The Giving Heart, too, along with socks for his son.
At a little after
10:50 a.m., doors still hadn’t opened, but the line inched its way up in anticipation.
“It’s about to get crazy,” he said.