COLUMBIA — Almeta Crayton won’t let an illness slow her down.
The former First Ward councilwoman, who has hosted the Everyone Eats! program for the last 12 years, was hospitalized on dialysis for kidney failure last week. But participants can still expect to see her smiling face at the event this week.
"I’m the one putting it on," Crayton said. "Why wouldn’t I be there?"
Crayton, who comes from a low-income background, started the event to offer a Thanksgiving meal to all hungry Columbia residents, regardless of their circumstances.
"Just because a person is working doesn't mean they don't need any help," Crayton said. "The working poor don’t qualify for very much."
The program distributes baskets of donated food to families before Thanksgiving. Applications to receive the baskets were already due. Then on Thursday, Crayton hosts a dinner. Last year, 2,000 baskets were distributed and 300 people attended the dinner.
"Some people don’t have anything in the holiday season," Crayton said. "Others don't have anywhere to go. For the people who don’t have anywhere to go, we invite them to our dinner."
The dinner draws veterans, single people and even students who don’t go home for the holidays.
"No one is turned away," Crayton said.
The public can get involved by donating non-perishable foods to “trim” the meal, such as canned food and stuffing. Donations will be collected at Nephew's Nite Life, 1213 Old Highway 63.
On Wednesday, volunteers can help cook the Thanksgiving meal at Stephens College Cafeteria starting at 7 a.m. The cafeteria is located in the lower level of Stamper Commons at 1300 E. Broadway.
"We'll be in Stephens, so people can just show up," Crayton said. "They don’t have to make any appointment."
The actual meal will be served at noon on Thursday at Nephew's. Crayton needs help with serving, set-up, transportation and clean-up beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Despite the success of the event, Crayton hopes to see the need for the program diminish.
"I don't want to see an increase, because that means something wrong is going on in Columbia," Crayton said. "This ain't no contest. It's just about helping somebody."