COLUMBIA — Almeta Crayton and her fellow volunteers were busy preparing for the annual Everyone Eats food drive in the kitchen at Stamper Commons in Stephens College on Wednesday.
Everyone Eats is a food drive that was started 15 years ago by Crayton, a former First Ward councilwoman. It offers needy families food baskets for Thanksgiving and also a walk-in dinner Thanksgiving Day. The dinner will start at 11 a.m. at Stamper Commons at Stephens College.
Crayton said about 1,600 baskets were handed out to families in need this year. She doesn't know exactly how many volunteers she has or how many people will turn out at the Thanksgiving dinner. Most volunteers show up, come up with new ideas and figure out ways to help.
"There's no organizing," Crayton said.
Instead the volunteers self-organize. On Wednesday, they were busy coming in and out with more food items, taking out corn bread, cutting turkeys into pieces and stirring the cheese sauce in several pots.
The smell of turkey mixed with macaroni and cheese wafted through the kitchen. Despite a food-filled day, Crayton and some volunteers didn't have lunch until late in the afternoon. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Crayton's lunch was still sitting on the kitchen table next to her chair.
The day before Thanksgiving is busy for Crayton. One volunteer came to her with a spoonful of cheese sauce and asked her to try it. Another volunteer told her that he was going out to buy some decorations. She told him to "go to the Dollar Tree."
Eight-year-old Alexandra Sanderson, who spent the morning mopping the floor and helping others, tried to shake hands and say goodbye to Crayton.
"I don't shake hands. I hug. Come here," Crayton said, while holding Sanderson's hands and pulling her in for a hug.
Debra McDannold, a mother of three, was busy stirring cheese sauce in a pot and moving hams. McDannold met Crayton through First Steps, an early childhood intervention program, in which both her son and Crayton's participated about 20 years ago.
"She's quite a lady," McDannold said. "I've watched and admired her from afar."
McDannold said she tries to give back to the community when she can.
McDannold's family has a self-designed project to give back to the community every year. Once they prepared a Christmas basket and left it on Crayton's front porch. Another time, McDannold saw a homeless man on the other side of the street while driving by in her car. She pulled over, chased the man down and gave him $20.
"We never know when it would be us who need that help," McDannold said.
Bill Sullivan, a manager at Longhorn Steakhouse, arrived in the kitchen at 9 a.m. Wednesday and worked without breaks into the afternoon.
Sullivan used to cook for his family on Thanksgiving Day before he joined Crayton's program 11 years ago. Now he spends Thanksgiving Day with his family at his sister-in-law's house, and Sara Rutter is the one cooking.
"If you cook 50 turkeys a day, you don't need to cook one more," Sullivan said.
For Mary Lamberson, a secretary at Russell Elementary School, volunteering with Everyone Eats was not her original plan. She was going to take a three-day trip with her son, Peter Lamberson, to Tel Aviv, Israel, last Saturday. She canceled her trip last-minute because of safety concerns. Because she wasn't leaving the country, she decided to have a new experience volunteering at Everyone Eats.
Lamberson cooks "as little as possible" herself, but Wednesday she cleaned pig intestines for hours.
"I'm doing better," Lamberson said, while taking the fat out of the intestines. "I may have a new thing to put on my resume."
Deidre Wipke-Tevis is the "macaroni lady" in the kitchen; she and her Girl Scouts troop made about 10 pans of macaroni and cheese.
This is Wipke-Tevis' sixth year as a volunteer. She had the help of her daughter Delaney Tevis, 15, and Delaney's friend Laura Perry, 15.
"The girls look forward to this. It's kinda like homecoming. We see the same people every year," Wipke-Tevis said. She tries "to instill that sense of giving back to the community" and "be part of the community effort."