The Valdosta Daily Times
Just count the number of turkey dinners that were given away by the 100 Black Men of Valdosta Saturday, and gratefully accepted by the needy and homeless of the Valdosta area, and you will get a hint at how serious poverty is in South Georgia.
Last year, the 100 Black Men prepared and gave away 925 meals for its annual feed the hungry event; this year, the organization gave away 1,000.
The organization began serving the traditional Thanksgiving dinners — turkey, dressing, green beans and cranberry sauce - at 9:45 a.m., and in half an hour, it had served 125 meals. The 100 Black Men members serve throughout the day, but most of the food is given away by noon, said 100 Black Men Vice President Nathaniel Haugabrook.
The organization set up shop at the Salvation Army on the corner of Troup Street and Smithland Place to serve needy coming in on foot, but volunteers also took meals to Ashley House Apartments, Sands Horizon, The Haven shelter for battered women, LAMP New Horizons shelter, and to homeless taking residence under the South Patterson Street overpass.
Jonathan Hill and Carlos Hundley of TEACH Outreach Ministries were happy to deliver meals in take-out boxes to the approximately 15 homeless under the overpass and at a run-down house frequented by the poor, who met the two men with grateful smiles, words of appreciation and blessings.
Hundley admitted he had seen hard times himself, having grown up in the Hudson Dockett area, and that sometimes even the homeless who took advantage of the free dinners one year, return the next to help out, as he has.
“In Lowndes County, the need is immense,” Roy Copeland, chair of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority and a 100 Black Men member who volunteered Saturday. “We could probably do this every week, and still have the need.”
The 100 Black Men began the meal give-away in 1995, when it served about a “couple hundred,” Haugabrook said. Now they serve close to 1,000.
Volunteers from the Valdosta State University Graduate Social Work Organization and First Berean Baptist Church helped prepare the food, some of which began Friday evening and continued throughout the night.
They prepared 42 turkeys, 30 pans of dressing, 40 pans of green beans, 12 pans of greens, 10 pans of cranberry sauce and several hams. The 100 Black Men provided about 400 bottles of water and cases of other drinks as well, Haugabrook said.
“We’ve done this for 18 years; we’ve got it down to an art,” Haugabrook said.
Haugabrook stressed that not all who took the meals were homeless. Some have just fallen into hard times.
“In this economy, the way it is, hard times have hit across the board,” Haugabrook said. “We’re here to fill that gap. We’re hopeful that this will get them through the holidays.”
Bank of America sponsored the purchase of about 30 turkeys, and everything else was either purchased by the 100 Black Men or by the 25 volunteers. Haugabrook guessed about $3,200 was spent.
The 100 Black Men’s primary goal is to build scholarship money for graduating seniors, but feeding the hungry is one of Haugabrook's favorite events. Volunteers Audrey Wade and Oterice Simmons were more than happy to pull turkey for the dinners to help out the needy.
“We’re enjoying it,” Simmons said. “It’s always good to help out somebody.”
Wade added it was a “good feeling” to her, “knowing you can make a difference.”