By Valerie Baldowski
Sarah Billups, of Stockbridge, donned an apron and wielded a pair of tongs as she took her place in the serving line, ready to help load plates of food for hungry people.
Using a Styrofoam "to-go" box, Billups placed slices of turkey in it, then passed it along to other volunteers, who added other trimmings associated with the traditional Thanksgiving meal -- mashed potatoes, dressing, vegetables, and bread.
Billups was one of more than a dozen volunteers, from seven Henry County churches, in a makeshift assembly line, serving Thanksgiving meals at the 15th annual Feed the Hungry campaign, sponsored by Men On A Mission, at the Shiloh Baptist Church Educational Center, Wednesday.
The event at 253 Macon St., in McDonough, was held from 11 a.m., to 6 p.m. Men On A Mission is an interdenominational group from various churches in Henry County, said Lee Kelley, Sr., chairman of the group. "We are made up of Baptists, Methodists, and other denominational groups," Kelley said. "We've got about 25 members. This is not just lay people, we've got ministers that are part of this organization."
Kelley, a deacon at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Stockbridge, was in the kitchen, helping to prepare food. Other volunteers in the kitchen loaded up Styrofoam plates, and served those who came to stay and eat. Still others manned the dessert table and dispensed drinks.
Some who came for the Thanksgiving feast were elderly, some were adults with children in tow. As a steady stream of area residents came to get a hot meal, the sounds of happy chatter filled the room. "This is a very difficult time, and there's a lot of hungry people out there," said Billups, a member of Shiloh Baptist. "People are coming in here because they've been doing this now for several years, and they know that they're going to get a good meal, a full meal. That's why they're here. Men On A Mission is doing a really good thing."
The project is designed to spread the message that no one in the community should be left out, Billups said. "It is very important for people to know that, in hard times, you're not alone, that people care," added Billups.
Locust Grove resident, Lillie Peavy, was one of those who came in for a meal. Peavy, 77, went through the line to get a to-go box to take to her husband. She has lived in the area for 15 years, but Wednesday was the first time she stopped in at Shiloh Baptist for a Thanksgiving meal.
The food was a "blessing," Peavy said. "It's just a hard time of year," she added, her voice breaking. "My husband's handicapped in the bed. We don't have anybody down here in Henry County to help us any."
Peavy said picking up a pre-packaged meal is convenient for her. "I've gotten to where I can't hardly stand up long enough to cook," she added.
Clara Newton, 63, was sitting at a table with Darlene Barber, 45. Both women had pre-packaged meals in plastic bags on the table beside them. "I think this is a wonderful thing they're doing," said Newton. "A lot of people aren't going to have any way to cook, a lot of people aren't going to have any money to buy any groceries. You've got so many people out of jobs."
Barber said she has a 17-year-old son confined to a wheelchair. She said the meals are "a good celebration of Thanksgiving."
"To me, it's like an open door, like they put the welcome mat out," said Barber. "You come in here and get a plate, and feed the rest of the family. That's a great idea. That's fantastic, because I come down here every year. "
Last year, Men On A Mission's Feed the Hungry campaign fed 500 people until the church ran out of food, said Kelley. This year, the same number were expected, but volunteers had extra food on hand, he said.
"Last year, we ran out of dressing, and the word went out this year, and we have an abundance of dressing this year," said the deacon.
The Ministerial Alliance, an association of black ministers in Henry County, purchased 30 turkeys, and Men On A Mission bought seven cases of chicken. Community members prepared, or donated, the vegetables, dressing, desserts, drinks, and other food items, Kelley said.
"The majority of the ones that were served are carry-out plates," he said. "I'd say about 200 would come through [the serving line], and then the various churches bring the list of elderly and needy from their church and their community ... and they deliver those plates to the needy."