Fifty pounds of potatoes, 20-some boxes of turkey stuffing, six turkeys over 20 pounds each and about 15 pecan and pumpkin pies filled three Gerbes shopping carts as Almeta Crayton and Cindy Mustard shopped for the “Everyone Eats” Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s trying to get away, Cindy,” Crayton said as she almost dropped one of the large turkeys. Crayton, the First Ward councilwoman, has been host for the dinner at Lou’s Palace for the past five years.
“Wait a minute, I remember them from last year,” said Vicky Swanson-Starke, a Gerbes cashier.
The dinner, from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday, will be open to anyone who needs someplace to go for a hot Thanksgiving meal.
“I’ve been there before myself, so I help other people now,” Crayton said.
Cindy Mustard, director of the Voluntary Action Center in Columbia, helps Crayton gather money and groceries for the event every year. In turn, Crayton helps Mustard with the center’s Christmas program.
This year, the center donated $200 for the Thanksgiving feast. Monday’s shopping spree contributed to the cache of food that previously had been donated or purchased.
Donations also have helped Crayton put together about 400 baskets that each include a frozen turkey breast, a couple of potatoes, onions, butter, cake mix or half a pie, a box of stuffing and bread. The baskets have been distributed to people who can’t get out on their own to buy ingredients for a meal.
One year, a disabled war veteran was sleeping in the downtown Columbia post office and trying to keep himself warm when one of the volunteers woke him and gave him some hot food.
“The next year, he was able to walk down the street to us,” Crayton said.The gathering attracted about 150 people in 1999. Last year, more than 200 people showed up.
“That tells me this really is something,” Crayton said.
Crayton is asking for volunteers to help with preparing the meal Wednesday at Stephens College’s Stamper Commons. The cooking will start at 8 a.m.
Crayton likes seeing not just needy people but also members of the community come to support the dinner.
“You get a lot of people that are in distress, but you don’t know where they are,” Crayton said. “Once you do this, you know who they are.”