SYLACAUGA – When they said “it takes a village,” they were probably talking about SAFE’s annual community Thanksgiving dinner.
Now in its 10th year, the event brings in hundreds of volunteers and feeds thousands of people across Talladega County a hot meal on Thanksgiving Day.
“We literally serve or deliver meals to people all over this county, and sometimes into Coosa County, so we don’t turn anybody away,” said SAFE Family Services Director Margaret Morton.
She said the dinner is unique in that every single thing provided for it is voluntary.
“It’s either people donating money to purchase turkeys or donating food or donating their time,” Morton said. “This is truly an outpouring of the community’s willingness to give, and I think if you talked to anybody who has helped with this before, you will hear them say they are blessed by it. It’s an opportunity to really put faith into action.”
The dinner, held at Reaching the World Bible Church, will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 22. Guests can contact SAFE to make reservations for delivery, pick-up or dining at the church.
Last year, they served 2,750 meals, and SAFE is preparing for 3,000 this year. Organized by Sylacauga’s Promise Committee, the event served 220 people its first year and has grown every time since. Taylor Logan of SAFE said its success is because of the support they receive from every area of the community.
“There are a lot of wonderful events and opportunities that go on in Sylacauga, but this is one that you truly get to see every sector of the community come together,” Logan said. “From the hospital to the Housing Authority to the schools, churches and restaurants, it really shows the Sylacauga community spirit, because everybody gets involved.”
Donations come in from many individuals and organizations, including the city schools, B.B. Comer Elementary and High School, Coosa Valley Medical Center and various churches. Lucille Anderson and Nancy McKay lead the fundraising efforts for Sylacauga’s Promise, and the city also allocated $1,000 to the event for the first time this year. Another first-time participant is Courtyard Childersburg Oyster Bar, which is donating a majority of turkeys, dressing and gravy. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s interesting because now you’ll just have people walk up to SAFE and say, ‘Here’s $25, here’s my turkey money,’ or they’ll call and say, ‘Nobody’s contacted me yet about such and such,’” Morton said. “So it really is something people have embraced, and I think that speaks to the spirit of this community, and that is a celebration of this community.”
While it’s impossible to know exactly how much food to prepare, Morton said there is always enough somehow.
“It just happens,” she said. “The Lord provides, and it’s like the story of the loaves and the fishes. You think about feeding 2,700 people last year. It might mean sending our volunteers out to get groceries, but it always works out.”
Between the planning, food preparation and thousands of deliveries, pulling off the dinner in only two hours is a “logistical engineering miracle,” Morton said, thanks in part to detailed delivery routes prepared by SAFE’s Marsha Tyler.
“She puts all the information together so when we get there Thursday morning, all we have to do is plate-up and we’re ready to go,” Morton said. “It’s amazing the engineering it takes to make that happen, because you really have to know the area. If you can plate and either deliver or serve that many meals between 11 and 1, I challenge anybody to do it any quicker.”
Morton said the commitment from the donors, volunteers and host church to making the event happen is astounding.
“People plan their Thanksgiving around this, and they’re giving up, in many respects, their own Thanksgiving Day, so gosh, what a testimony,” she said. “What I’m seeing now in my mind are all these people who have stood in line waiting to deliver, have plated up year in and year out. You know they’re going to be there.”
The Thanksgiving dinner has become a signature of the community, Morton said, and is one of the reasons Sylacauga has been selected among the 100 Best Communities for Young People by the America’s Promise Committee for six years running.
“It’s just a real, true example of what Sylacauga is about,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
To donate, volunteer or make reservations, contact SAFE at 256-245-4343.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.