For the seventh year, First Ward Councilwoman Almeta Crayton transformed Lou’s Palace on East Walnut Street into the site of a Thanksgiving dinner for Columbia’s needy.
A few extra tables clothed in white, flowers donated from local flower shops and a few handcrafted center pieces combined with a jovial, family-like atmosphere were all that was needed to create a Thanksgiving holiday for those without a place to go.
Crayton said she saw the need in her community seven years ago and decided to do something about it.
“I just knew that people existed who were needy. I thought about all the people who don’t have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving,” Crayton said.
Although the dinner is targeted toward the homeless, low income families and senior citizens, its doors are open to anyone.
The cooking started Wednesday and continued throughout the day. On Thursday, volunteers started warming the food that had been cooked the night before to make sure it would be ready by noon, when Lou’s Palace opened its doors for Thanksgiving dinner.
Forty turkeys and three hams were complemented by macaroni and cheese, stuffing, green beans and mashed potatoes and gravy, all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
All the food was bought through donations made by Columbia’s citizens and local businesses. Moser’s offered discounted food and Lucy’s Restaurant donated 600 hot rolls, Crayton said.
Leftover food was delivered by volunteers to local shelters, such as the Phoenix House.
“Nothing is wasted,” Crayton said.
About 83 volunteers came from around the community to lend their time, helping the preparation on Wednesday night, serving the food Thanksgiving Day and cleaning up that night. The MU basketball team stops by every year to help serve the food, Crayton said.
“Word of mouth is the best way to get volunteers,” Crayton said. “Every year it gets bigger and bigger.”
She estimates about 300 people came to eat this year.
Volunteers also made about 1,000 baskets with all the makings of a Thanksgiving dinner to distribute to needy families around Columbia.
Lou Nelson, who owns Lou’s Palace, has been hosting the dinner since its inception. His family joins him every year to celebrate Thanksgiving while helping others.
“I want to see people smile,” he said. “Everybody has a good time when they come here.”