[Spotlight] 32nd annual Thanksgiving Day feast for the homeless
By: Terry Rader
Talking with Mary Lacklen, co-founder of the Community Tables Thanksgiving Day Feast, she shared with me that she had done this event for half of her life. I remember the first one in 1986 held at The Salvation Army. There were 300 homeless served that day with the help of many volunteers. Today, they’ve fed over 110,000 hungry people. Lacklen strives to be a good steward of her volunteers who make it all possible. “Serving food to the homeless can be cathartic for all of us,” she said. “If you’d like to join us and volunteer, please sign up on Facebook or Community Table’s link to Sign-up Genius. We always need more volunteers.”
As the numbers of people in need continue to grow each year, the demand for more food grows as well. Community Tables is not affiliated with the Greensboro Urban Ministry, where they previously used their facility. Now, the Greensboro Coliseum opens it’s facilities for the entire week that it takes to prep and prepare the meals that served 5,200 homeless citizens on Thanksgiving Day last year.
Ken Conrad, co-founder and former owner of Libby Hill Restaurant worked alongside Lacklen on this event for 28 years. When he died unexpectedly, she wanted to do something to honor his legacy. Lacklen met with Walker Sanders, president of The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, to create two funds in Conrad’s memory. The Conrad Legacy Endowment only allows an annual percentage to be drawn to add to the Thanksgiving Fund’s donations that pay all of the bills. This year, Lacklen is worried about how she will raise the remaining $5,000-$6,000 needed to meet the 2018 budget requirements. With Florence and Michael, she said many North Carolina turkey farm crops were destroyed, and turkey costs have significantly increased on top of donations falling short.
Lacklen said she is accepting tax-deductible donations and Sanders will handle all donations. Lacklen said she is grateful for the support that the community provides through her grassroots funding efforts. “Mary is the heart and soul of it,” Sanders said. “We are looking for a longer-term business model to sustain it because it’s far too important to lose. We want it to live on forever and honor Conrad’s wishes, too.”
“I’m worried about what would happen to this event if something happened to me, what if I got hit by a bus or something?” Lacklen said. “I’m thinking it may be time for me to hand off the torch to someone who will love it as much as I do, so it doesn’t disappear.”
One thing I know for sure is that whenever Lacklen has that apron on, she is truly happy and if she’s cooking, there are lots of happy bellies at the table. After owning four restaurants, she is still dedicated to the food industry in her work at Triad Local First. Lacklen is also available as an independent restaurant consultant and event planner. You can hire her to fill your fridge with home-cooked soups and casseroles or cater your holiday office parties or other big events. She brings to the table a lifetime of cooking expertise, skilled experience and fun. She’s learned to have a sense of humor as a full-time forever foodie, and her big heart keeps on giving back.