BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) – Large cans of corn were heating on the stove early Thanksgiving morning, and pans of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, salad and rolls were ready to be served.
The Kelly family was cooking enough food to feed hundreds of hungry people. But the faces gathered around their Thanksgiving table weren't just family and friends. Many of them were total strangers.
Every year, the Kellys prepare and serve a free Thanksgiving lunch. Everyone who walks through the door, no matter what income or personal situation, is warmly greeted, seated, and served.
The lady behind the festive feast is Sally Kelly. She has been seeking donations and planning for the meal since the end of September.
"Well it's fun and it's good. It's good for the community. It's good for the stores and everything to get involved and give back," Kelly said.
This tradition of sharing started 25 years ago in her daughter's C's Restaurant in Bay St. Louis. They quickly outgrew the restaurant and moved to the American Legion building on Green Meadow Road.
"I really am not even tired. It's like you're having fun," said Kelly.
The family fed 1,100 people this year, 400 more than last year. And in the 25 years that they've been doing it, they have never run out of food.
"I think it's wonderful what she's doing, because it brings a lot of people together and they give thanks together. It helps a lot of people who don't have no food," said Bobby Davis, a Bay St. Louis resident who has been coming to the lunch since it started.
Kelly's nine children, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren all pitched in, either with labor or with donations if they live out of town. Her granddaughter Maranda Husley was in charge of getting the food out to the table.
"It's special. It's nice. It's good to know they have some place to go," said Husley. Then she turned to her two-year-old daughter and said "Say this is Thanksgiving for us, huh? She's been coming here since she was born."
And for those who ask why the Kellys don't spend Thanksgiving at home with each other...
"This is my family, my family's here. My grandmother's here, my mom, my dad, my husband, my family's here," said Husley.
"We're all one family under God," said Kelly with a smile.
To celebrate their 25th anniversary this year, the family gave away 25 door prizes, including a frozen turkey to the 25th person who came in for a hot meal.