Conrad Fund to benefit Thanksgiving Day community table
When we sit down at our Thanksgiving table, giving thanks for the wonderful meal we are about enjoy among family, or friends who are like family, it’s very easy to forget that there’s so much hunger right outside our door.
One in four families in the Triad face food insecurity. And of course, Thanksgiving is a whole other matter. But for 30 years now, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro has been feeding those in need.
The initiative is called Community Tables. And through its Thanksgiving Day project nearly 100,000 people have been served over the last three decades. Co-founder and organizer Mary Lacklen, who’s director of operations for Libby Hill Seafood, started the project when she was president of the Guilford County Restaurant Association. “We wanted to have a yearly project,” she says, “We see so much waste and there’s so much need in our area, it’s kind of frightening.”
It’s a typical Thanksgiving Day meal, complete with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and dessert. There are tablecloths and linens and fresh flowers on the tables. There’s even live music. Thousands of volunteers and other organizations are needed to make it happen. Victory Junction cooks the turkey for instance. Dozens of volunteers are needed even the day before boxing pies and setting up. From there, the meals are prepared and brought in to the Congregational Church of Christ at 400 Radiance Drive. Meals are also boxed and sent out to the needy that are served by other non-profits and churches. Lacklen calls it a well-oiled machine. “It’s a massive volunteer effort,” she says. “Organized chaos.” Five thousand people in need receive a meal on Thanksgiving Day, including 500 at the church. Three buses are used as shuttles throughout the day. Once a group is dropped off at the church, another group is picked up and then dropped off at various locations. And so it goes.
Lacklen was inspired by the Christmas meal that former Ham’s owner, the late Mark Freiberg, held every year. His daughter, Anna, has continued the Christmas tradition at Bender’s Tavern in Greensboro. Lacklen’s Thanksgiving Day dinner has grown from the kitchen at the Potter’s House at the Urban Ministry to the kitchen at the Greensboro Coliseum where meals are now prepared and then sent to those in need.
The effort costs about $25,000 annual to serve the community. The group raises money all year, but now they’re in that final push to make things really happen.
“At the end of each year, we’ve had a surplus, but last year, the need was so great, we didn’t have a residual to carry over,” Lacklen said. They have been buying all the food, she added, but this year hope to get some donations for ingredients as well as paper goods with particular hope for paper containers for sustainable packaging of to-go items.
The goal is to make sure they get the financial support necessary for the Thanksgiving Day Community Table and for the Christmas project as well.
Support for this year is greatly needed. An endowment fund has been established to help support the CFGG’s Thanksgiving/Holiday Fund over the long haul. Lacklen named it the Ken Conrad Legacy Endowment Fund after her mentor and Community Tables co-founder Ken Conrad, who passed away last December. Conrad was a prominent businessman and chairman of Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants as well as chairman of the National Restaurant Association. Lacklen and Conrad spent 30 years feeding those in need. “He worked every year at Thanksgiving except last year, just before he passed. He was a fine man. Among the best. I felt strongly about keeping his legacy alive,” Lacklen said. The endowment is meant to eventually ensure the long-term stability of the project, but right now, the project itself still needs support of donors. “No donation is too small,” Lacklen says.
The Thanksgiving Day dinner is a special time. Many dress in their “Sunday best.” Lacklen says she wouldn’t have her holiday any other way. “It’s been a big part of my life and the way I spend my Thanksgiving. I enjoy doing it.”