Putting the ‘giving’ in Thanksgiving
On Thanksgiving morning near the corner of Lee and Eugene streets a low sun drenches everything in gold. By the loading dock of the squat brick building a pile of plastic palettes grows in clattering increments.
Inside the truck bay Mary Lacklen wipes a strand of auburn hair from her brow before speaking to a television reporter. She drops a quick soundbite and smiles for the camera before getting back to work ‘— running trays of stuffing and sweet potatoes, changing out garbage liners, expediting cartons of boxed meals and rotating the volunteer staff at different positions.
She’s been at it since yesterday afternoon, and it’s not her first time.
Mary, who along with her husband Drew, owns and operates Bert’s Seafood Grille in Greensboro, has been bringing Thanksgiving to people in need since 1987, when she teamed up with Ken Conrad, owner of Libby Hill Seafood restaurants, and started cooking turkeys.
Today Conrad stands at the head of a long table, one of two that take up the space in the room like a big equals symbol and serve as assembly lines, with pairs of volunteers at each station: stuffing, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, yams, green beans, cranberry sauce and bread.
They get all types down here on Thanksgiving morning: teenage kids in hoodie sweatshirts, volunteers in ironed jeans, restaurant people in chef’s pants, church groups, neighborhood activists and do-gooders of every stripe who are getting with the ‘giving’ on this holiday before making with the ‘thanks.’
Eric Beeson and Robert Bradley, both 18, started cooking turkeys last night at 6. They came back to the site this morning at 5:30 to carve the birds and make gravy. Now they’re working the big black cookers under a plastic shelter in the parking lot, keeping things hot.
A silver-haired man in an elegant black T-shirt spoons potatoes into a tray while talking politics with his neighbor, a guy in a Desert Storm veterans hat who’s working the gravy bucket. Volunteer Fran Bridges, a white apron tied over her sweater, directs a couple of bleary-eyed helpers to their places on the line. She gives them serving gloves and utensils and sets them off.
‘“That’s all the training you get,’” she says.
Mary says that most volunteers come every year.
‘“Everybody pretty much knows what to do,’” she says. ‘“You don’t have to show everybody every year.’”
They’ve gone through 56 turkeys, eight sides of pork, a tub of gravy and enough trays of stuffing to build an aluminum retaining wall. They’ve put out perhaps a couple thousand meals today, feeding everyone who comes here to the Urban Ministry. They’ll send more than a thousand to others would not have a Thanksgiving if not for the efforts here today, including 676 for the Triad Health Project and 260 or so for Mobile Meals for the elderly.
The food comes from several sources. Some, like the whole hams, were donated by businesses. But most of the food is bought with money provided by a fund from the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro
Ken and Mary consolidate the assembly lines into one as the production phase winds down. Outside people gather to satisfy the distribution aspect of the operation.
Out by the loading dock Shane Burton carries a stack of delivery assignments that get ruffled by the wind. A small crowd waits for their delivery lists and a dozen or so pickup trucks idle in the parking lot. A small garden of bagged meals blooms along the brick wall.
‘“Do you have anything in McLeansville?’” somebody asks Burton.
‘“I don’t. I’ve got Browns Summit?’”
Dennis Bass stands by the field of grocery bags with a list of drop-off points in his hand. He’s a long-haul trucker who’s been helping here on Thanksgiving morning for the last five years before eating his own dinner with his parents in Reidsville. He waits quietly in the sun for his bag of meals.
‘“I’ve got eight,’” he says, all in Greensboro.
Before leaving the facility Ken Conrad fills his arms with a few bags of Thanksgiving plates. As he crosses the parking lot to load them in his red Silverado pickup, a longtime volunteer shouts, ‘“How many people you feeding this year?
‘“About forty,’” he says, getting into the truck.
The woman makes an audible expression of appreciation.
‘“You’re a good man, Ken Conrad.’”
Ken shrugs it off and backs his big red truck out of the space. A volunteer in a white apron runs over and directs him safely out of the space and to the exit.
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