GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - It was an amazing Thursday morning at Bayou View Middle School. Families from all over Harrison County spent the early part of their Thanksgiving delivering 2,300 meals to shut ins around the area.
The joy of that experience was tempered by this realization. Organizers emptied their wallets to make today's dinner. So, at the moment, they have nothing left to feed needy families on Christmas.
The Feed the Needy volunteer staff will worry about that on Friday. Thursday was all about being thankful for what the organization did have. That was the message Gulfport Commander Randy Brown shared with volunteers before they started packing the holiday meals. "At this time of year, this is what it's all about, sharing and giving to others," he said.
Moments later, D'Iberville Police Chief Wayne Payne looked at the crowd and said, "God bless each one of you, and thank each one of you."
As the volunteers moved into position, Jimmy Johnson barked out, "Are my lines ready?".
Among the people in line, waiting to fill plates with Thanksgiving joy, were DeCarlos Evers and his mom Carla. "It's an opportunity for us to give back together," Ms. Evers said.
Round and round the volunteers went, filling plates, dropping them at the box site, and getting back in line. About 15 minutes into the event, Johnson fired everybody us with a status report on their progress. "Y'all done 300 already. Good job," he said, clapping his hands like a cheerleader.
Marta Vega and her children were part of the volunteer team. "We just want to do something nice, that's all. And I wanted to show the kids to do something nice," she said.
With 425 volunteers in the Bayou View Middle School cafeteria, the holiday program looked as healthy as ever. However, that wasn't the case. Feed the Needy was going through the same economic struggles as everybody else. Just ask David Shoemake. His wife oversees the group's finances. "And at this point, we have no money, I mean zero balance for Christmas," he lamented. And that's never happened before.
Traditionally, when volunteers box up meals for Thanksgiving, they have money set aside for Christmas. But this year, donations are down. And organizers are admittedly a bit worried. "We will make Christmas, some kind of way, we will make Christmas. We just need help," Shoemake said.
Help appeared in the form of Barry Foster. When the Gulfport man and his wife heard about Feed the Needy's Christmas crisis, they decided their Christmas gift money should go to the feeding program. "Anything I would get for Christmas would just be an abundance to what I already have," Foster said. "I think it would be a great gift to give to the people who are hungry."
Foster's $1,000 gift put Feed the Needy about 20% toward its Christmas goal. "In the hardest times that our community has ever seen, we've got that spirit, and it's so cool," said Shoemake.