The event began five years ago when Toyo Tire contacted Tina Jennings.
“Toyo called and told me they would like to financially support an organization that does a Christmas dinner. I told them I would find out who does that but no one did at the time. So we decided to start one and this is the fifth year. Toyo is gracious to provide lots of funding and lots of volunteers. We also have about 200 volunteers from the community. The first year we planned the event in three weeks’ time and had more than 400 volunteers. Now we put a limit on how many volunteers we have, which says a lot about our community,” Jennings said.
The luncheon, which included a roasted turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy and other sides along with homemade desserts, also serves to-go plates to those who are unable to leave their home.
“Churches let us know how many shut-ins they know of and we prepare a plate and deliver it to them. This morning we had about 235 orders and since then we’ve made about 70 additional plates,” Jennings said.
Local nonprofit organizations such as The United Way helped spread the word about the event and the Bartow Transit provided rides to and from the luncheon.
“Many churches also joined together with us to help out. This year, specifically, Creekside Fellowship has been awesome. They brought three vans to deliver food to shut-in people; they helped bring Toys for Tots on board and provided a lot of volunteers and many of the desserts,” Jennings said.
Dorothy Murphy, of Adairsville, learned of the community feast while riding Bartow Transit to her weekly medical appointment. “I heard of the lunch and wanted to bring along my friend, Deborah Perry. This is the first year we’ve come but we will definitely be back next year,” Murphy said.
Sitting at her table was Jeffery McDaniels. “Jeffrey and I see each other every week on the Bartow Transit. He rides to work and I ride to my doctor’s appointment. This is such a blessing that we can all come and get a nice meal and visit with others,” Murphy said.
Mary Bryant, of Cartersville, and her two daughters, Kathy, 16, and Lizzie, 10, also attended for the first time.
“This was so nice. It’s been a rough year for many people and it’s a relief to come to things like this,” Bryant said.
Lizzie anxiously waited while the others finished their meal so she and her mom could go out to the Toys for Tots booth. “I am so excited they have toys here. I can’t wait to go get one,” Lizzie said.
Bryant, who looks forward to next year, said she hopes things will get better. Her goal for 2014 is to get a place of her own for herself and her daughters.
Outside the church, members of Toys for Tots gathered information from parents who wanted to get a gift for their child.
Amanda Pruitt, a Toys for Tots board member and volunteer, said, “This is our first year being at the Community Christmas Luncheon. We thought this would be a great opportunity to help people who don’t normally have a ride to come see us and this is one of the last events held before Christmas.”
Each child under 12 years old who is accepted by the program received three toys and a bag of stocking stuffers.
“So far today we have had 14 applications but each application usually has several children on it; we accepted one that had nine children,” Pruitt said. “Children deserve to have something at Christmas, regardless of their home life or the parents’ situation. All children should get to experience the beauty of generosity this time of year.”