COLUMBIA —Growing up, Obun Ukabam's family needed a little extra help during the holidays. So Saturday's food drive at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center benefiting 30 families had special significance for him.
“I was one of these families growing up,” said Ukabam, who was the chapter coordinator for the event. "I’m honoring all the people who helped me and my family by passing it on and helping the next generation.”
Contact Marcus Jefferson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was Ukabam's first year participating but the 15th year for the event, meticulously planned and choreographed by MU's Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Xi Epsilon Lambda Chapter.
Ukabam was one of a team of men dressed in black and gold T-shirts and sweatshirts tossing food back and forth and calling out lists and orders. Brown paper bags covered wall-to-wall tables, and as quickly as the flimsy paper bags were snapped open, they were filled to the brim for the upcoming holiday week.
Chapter treasurer, Marcus Jefferson, said what makes the food drive different from others is the number of meals the fraternity strives to provide.
“We pick a day the week before Thanksgiving, and our goal is to feed that family for the entire week,” Jefferson said.
Columbia’s Voluntary Action Center picked the 30 families who received food this year, based on particular needs and qualifications and having not been recipients in the past. Families ranged in size from three to seven members. They received milk, bread, chicken, bacon, eggs and other items in addition to the traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey and fixings.
Fraternity members even carried the bags out to families' cars for them.
As Kathy Gibson, one of this year’s recipients, waited for her bags inside the Black Culture Center, she said she was relieved to be chosen this year. “Money is really low,” she said, “I’m very thankful to everyone here and glad to have Thanksgiving at home.”
Cindy Mustard, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, said she was pleased to see how the food drive has grown since the event began in 1995.
“The first year we had seven families and this year we have more than tripled that," she said. "I hope we continue to grow.”
Members of Alpha Phi Alpha said they also hoped to keep the event growing to serve more Columbia families.
“When I took over in 2001 we were doing 14 families," former president and Thanksgiving Drive chair Jamon Simmons said. "I kept pushing the group, and it has grown to 30 today. I hope we keep it up.”
Simmons said his favorite part about being a part of the event was the appreciation from the families. “The look on their face when they get their Thanksgiving is just great,” he said.
This year, the fraternity instituted a "Sponsor-A-Family" initiative and received support from various local businesses and organizations including the Mississippi Fish Shack, Wal-Mart, Hy-Vee, Second Baptist Church, Urban Empowerment, MU's Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, MU's Student Government, Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, Pi Beta Phi Sorority, Delta Gamma Sorority, Sigma Nu fraternity, and The Johnston Hall Council, among others.
Simmons said donations were still coming in, even after distribution. The group will buy another load of food with those contributions and donate them to the Central Missouri Food Bank.