WATAUGA COUNTY − It’s no question that families all over the High Country benefit from the local meal services, which operate largely on a volunteer basis. During Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season, the need for charity is even greater.
Some volunteers, such as Ben McKinney, come up the mountain just to volunteer for this special holiday meal. McKinney, who was once a beneficiary of the Hunger and Health Coalition himself, has made the trip from Hickory for the past five years to run the kitchen during the nonprofit’s Thanksgiving meal.
“Thanksgiving for me is a big deal simply because it’s an opportunity to give back,” McKinney said. “I was in some rough spots many years ago and I actually met Joan Chater, the creator, back in the ‘80s, and utilized her services before.”
For the sixth year in a row, McKinney will find himself in the kitchen between 6 and 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, well before the other volunteers arrive. He will begin planning the meal, while also helping to coordinate the meal delivery service to those who are homebound and can’t make it to the First Baptist Church on King street, where the feast is held.
McKinney, who is now self-employed remodeling and restoring wares, is no stranger to food service himself. He worked at Rob’s Restaurant at Boone’s old Quality Inn, which has since been closed, “back in the old days.” While there, McKinney prepared banquets and other such meals, so he said that he’s used to preparing meals for large groups.
The Hunger and Health Coalition prepares dinner for several hundred people at the annual Thanksgiving meal, so McKinney welcomes “anybody who wants to show up.” In addition to the traditional Thanksgiving fare, such as turkey and fixins’, McKinney said that it’s a festive atmosphere.
“It’s just a really nice atmosphere,” McKinney said. “People bring their guitars and sing songs. There’s a good mixture of volunteers, employees and the community.”
“I go up and volunteer (with the Hunger and Health Coalition) every chance I can get, having been on both sides of the fence so to speak,” McKinney said. “I feel it’s the least I can do is try to give back, and maybe it can make a difference in someone else’s life like it did mine.”
According to Crystal Winebarger, director of operations at the Hunger and Health Coalition, the nonprofit depends on community donations and volunteers to pull off this large-scale community feast.
“I think I can speak for out entire staff, this is our favorite event of the year,” Winebarger said.
The Hunger and Health Coalition’s annual Thanksgiving meal takes place at the First Baptist Church in Boone from 11 a.m. till 2 p.m. The meal is open to the public and the community is invited.
For more information about the Hunger and Health Coalition, visit www.hungerandhealthcoalition.com.
A hospitable Thanksgiving
Although the Hunger and Health Coalition’s Thanksgiving meal may be the largest, it’s certainly not the only community meal served on Thanksgiving Day.
The Hospitality House of Boone, which provides “hand-ups” to those in need, hosts two charitable meals on the holiday, with a traditional meal at 12 p.m. and a meal of leftovers at 5:30 p.m.
According to executive director Tina Krause, the Hospitality House expects about 150 guests at each Thanksgiving meal, which is about 50 more people than those who turn out for the regular meals, which are served three times a day, seven days a week.
“The community that’s there for (our beneficiaries) is really special,” Krause said. “It’s a really nice setting, the whole room is set up beautifully with tablecloths and flowers. It feels like a family meal with a lot of laughter.”
One of the Hospitality House’s beneficiaries, John Gentry, said that the Thanksgiving Day meal is his favorite out of the entire year.
“The meals they usually have are really good, anyway,” Gentry said. “But it’s literally a big family to me when I go eat the Thanksgiving meal. I really enjoy going out there and I really enjoy eating with the people who work there. To me they are special, and that’s the time that (I’m thankful) to see another person.”
The Hospitality House’s Thanksgiving Day meal at noon is stretched out to two hours long so that guests can enjoy the meal as well as the festivities surrounding it.
For Krause, however, the charity doesn’t end on Thanksgiving. During the holiday season, there is an increased need for food boxes at the Hospitality House.
“We always have more people coming up with an increased need for food during the Christmas season,” Krause said. “It’s that time of year when people are having to make choices between heat and food or doctor visits. It all plays in to decisions about food, and we try to help wherever we can help to ease that.”
While the average amount of food boxes given out by the nonprofit for month is anywhere from 280 to 350, the need increases greatly in December to 600 boxes. Through fundraisers, such as the High Country Turkey Trot held on Thanksgiving Day, as well as chartable donations, food pantries across the High Country work to fill the need for food during the holiday season.
For more information about the Hospitality House of Boone, visit www.hospitalityhouseofboone.org.
Catering for a cause
In addition to the Hunger and Health Coalition and the Hospitality House of Boone, Green Street Catering also makes a point to make sure High Country residents can enjoy a meal on Thanksgiving Day.
“In 2014, Green Street Catering distributed over 500 food baskets to North Carolina families during the Thanksgiving holiday,” the website reads. “Baskets of turkeys/hams and all the trimmings, as well as pounds of staple items, lift food burdens and equip families to enjoy holiday meal traditions, regardless of circumstances.”
Green Street Catering provides over 800 food baskets each year to families and individuals in need. For more information about Green Street Catering, visit www.greenstreetcatering.org.