Live music washed over hundreds of people mingling and savoring hot meals inside Columbia Senior Center during “A Time to Give Thanks” Thanksgiving meal.
The feast, which was previously known as “Everybody Eats” and was free to all, was founded by Almeta Crayton in 1997. Although Crayton passed away in 2013, her godson, Kentrell Minton, continued holding the meal until his passing in 2020.
This year, the torch was picked up by Powerhouse Community Development Corporation’s CEO and founder Charles Stephenson to continue the Columbia tradition.
The nonprofit organization empowers members of the community through spearheaded initiatives, including food assistance, youth engagement programs and providing support to victims of domestic violence.
In late October, Stephenson found out there was no plan to hold the annual feast. He accepted the call to action.
“I felt I had to make sure this happened this year,” Stephenson said. “We began to work diligently putting this together to make sure that this great legacy continued on.”
Along with its own funding, the organization was supported by Veterans United Foundation for the Thanksgiving event, as well as community donations.
Dishing out steaming hot plates of turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and more, Stephenson estimated that he and others served around 1,000 people through deliveries, dine-in meals and takeout meals at this year’s Thanksgiving Day event.
“We got the bulk of the deliveries out this morning,” Stephenson said, noting that meals were sent to homeless centers, essential workers, senior living centers in the area and more.
The event also served as a gathering space for volunteers, some of whom attended with family members. Jamie Ragan and her mother, Sue Ragan, were pleased to interact with people and pass out beverages.
Debby Barksdale has been a longtime volunteer at the holiday event.
“It’s an event for people in the community who need a Thanksgiving dinner and some fellowship,” Barksdale said. “They come and people can sit and talk together or they can get takeout and go out ... It’s just a time for people to be together.”
Local residents were not the only ones in attendance. Volunteers from all over the U.S. showed up to show support for the event, including those a part of the AmeriCorps, a network of service programs that partners with organizations to serve communities.
One team has been in Columbia since late October helping Afghan refugees settle in the area.
About a dozen AmeriCorps members lent a hand greeting and bussing at the event, including Celia Velazquez from Florida, who expressed an interest in giving back to others. She’s following in the footsteps of her mother and brother, who were volunteers in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, respectively.
Others held similar sentiments, including Velazquez’s team member, Sadie Taylor from Kentucky, a recent college graduate who is interested in public policy.
“(AmeriCorps) brought me into wanting to do more,” Taylor said. The Thanksgiving event was one such way she, as well as her teammates, could contribute to community affairs in their free time.
“It’s just a great thing to do,” Barksdale said. “It’s really nice for everyone.”
Stephenson hopes to continue sponsoring the event if the original foundation cannot.