COLUMBIA – Thirteen years ago, Almeta Crayton realized that as a single mother, she would have a difficult time affording a Thanksgiving dinner for her only child. This was a common problem for many of the people in her neighborhood, so she began a food drive to help local families afford the holiday tradition.
The grassroots effort has expanded into the organization Everyone Eats!, which is entirely staffed by volunteers. This will be the 13th consecutive year for the free holiday meal.
Crayton, 50, remains the primary organizer for the event, which will culminate from noon to 5 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at Stamper Commons in Stephens College.
Crayton said she is seeking both cash and food donations, with all proceeds going to the Thanksgiving dinner and food baskets.
“The baskets are usually for families who just don’t have the means to afford a Thanksgiving meal,” she said. “The dinner is for people who don’t have anywhere to go, but we try to have a real family atmosphere.” Leftover food will be given to halfway houses.
Crayton encouraged MU students to participate in the event, both as volunteers and to enjoy the meal.
“We would like to have as much help as possible, but I also think that any students who are staying in Columbia over Thanksgiving break can get a lot out of the experience,” she said.
The first collection was held this weekend at Moser’s Discount Foods on Business Loop 70 West. Crayton said there will be a second round of collections at Moser’s on Nov. 20.
Last year, there were more than 2,000 requests for food baskets, and more than 400 people showed up for the Thanksgiving meal. Crayton anticipates even more people this year.
“So many people have been laid off recently," she said. "Many of them are too embarrassed to ask for help from charities, but I think they feel more comfortable around me.”
Crayton said she had been laid off this year as well, after working in Columbia Public Schools for the past 15 years. “This economy has affected lots of people."
She asked that turkeys not be donated until the week of Thanksgiving because she does not have the freezer space to store them. She said that non-perishable items such as canned green beans, boxed cake mix, salt, pepper and canned vegetables can be donated at any time.
She said that donations can be brought to her house on 409 Oak St., in addition to the collection event at Moser’s. She also hopes to have several collection bins available at local Hy-Vee grocery stores.
Families and individuals who want to receive gift baskets can pick up application forms from Crayton’s home. Crayton can be reached at her cell phone at 529-2151 or home number at 874-0284.