Everybody Eats! serves Thanksgiving dinner to 350, fills food bags for 450

Thursday, November 24, 2011 | 4:46 p.m. CST; updated 6:08 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 24, 2011
Attendees eat Thanksgiving dinner at the annual event organized by former City Council member Almeta Crayton. This year's event was held on Thursday at Stamper Commons at Stephens College.

COLUMBIA — Everybody Eats! served 16 turkeys, eight hams and 15 gallons of gravy to an estimated 350 people on Thanksgiving Day.

The program, organized by former City Council member Almeta Crayton, also delivered about 450 food baskets on Wednesday. This is the 14th community Thanksgiving meal that Crayton has sponsored.

“I’m low-income myself," she said. "I know some people have no place to go for the holiday. Some have financial difficulties, and foreign students can’t go home. This gives them something to eat.”

Because she expected a large turnout, Crayton had to make last-minute calls for donations. In the end, though, there was enough food for everyone.

“The donation was less than expected, but we have plenty to serve,” said Bill Sullivan, who has been volunteering for Everybody Eats! for nine years.

Sullivan, the managing partner of LongHorn Steakhouse in Columbia, said people have supported his restaurant for years and it’s time for him to do something for them.

In addition to the turkey and ham, Everybody Eats! served four pans of corn, 10 pans of green beans and 10 pans of dressing.

Across town, the Salvation Army served Thanksgiving dinner to about 270 at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken.

Cyndy Chapman, regional development director, said it was the Salvation Army’s 24th Thanksgiving meal, its fifth at Lee’s.

The meal included turkey prepared by Columbia College staff, as well as mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits and pie, Chapman said.

A total of 100 Salvation Army volunteers cooked the remaining dishes, ladled out the food and cleaned up the restaurant, Chapman said.

She said the dinner had a marked increase in attendance this year.

“Lots of people tell us they lost their jobs, had their hours reduced and aren’t making enough money,” she said. “Some people tell us they have to make the choice between food and medicine.”

Ron Horn, one of the guests, moved to Columbia about four months ago from Waynesville, where he lost his position as a marriage and family therapist.

He moved to Columbia about four months ago in hopes of finding a job but said he has not had any luck, despite a master’s degree in psychology from Wichita State University.

“It seems like we hear news of the improving economy, but it’s from the top down, not bottom up,” Horn said.

About 60 volunteers helped out at the meal at Everybody Eats!, which was held at Stamper Commons at Stephens College.

The buffet started at 11 a.m. when people were already waiting with paper plates to get scoops of turkey, mashed potatoes and dressing.

Some of the volunteers began cooking on Wednesday morning. Hudson Grant, 9, wore a cook’s hat and said he helped make cupcakes.

“I like to cook, and it’s good to serve,” said Hudson, who was with his mother, Kate, a manager at Fresh Ideas, which provides food for Stephens College.

At the dessert table, Tina Johnson and daughters Tia and Shaniece stood behind slices of chocolate cake, apple pie, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, caramel cake and white cake, all lined up in rows.

“We have a little bit of everything,” Tina Johnson said with a laugh.

“I like feeding people,” said Tia, her younger daughter.

Volunteer Faye Hedrick said she was visiting her family from Irvine, Calif., and came to help with her cousin, Teri Oster.

“I think it’s good for people to show they care about each other,” Hedrick said.

Michelle Fry, who said she also volunteered last year, was taking a break to eat with her two daughters.

“I felt I had really accomplished something, so I brought both of my girls here this year,” she said.

Daughter Maddson turned 16 Thursday and said she was happy to celebrate her birthday volunteering.

As the Frys ate, holiday music by Aretha Franklin was playing in the background.

Curtis Soul, a disc jockey from St. Louis, said he came because he was driven by “the desire to help.”

Geoff Matuszewski, who said he was unemployed, came to the dinner with his friend, Brenner Dawson.

Dawson said he was grateful that everyone in the community could have a Thanksgiving meal.

“Knowing there is this kind of helping hand around here is a really good thing,” he said.

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