"With the last couple of years with the economy [declining] and with the unemployment being so high and then we have military families that have military members overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq, we just feel like the community needs to come together and share a holiday meal," said Tina Jennings, vice president of Renasant Bank and a volunteer for the Community Christmas Luncheon. "There [also] are a lot of families that maybe their extended families are away or grandparents that want to bring their grandchildren. It's just time for the community to come together and share a meal. It's really open to anybody but there are a lot of people out there that maybe due to financial struggles [have] not had a good year."
On Dec. 18, the luncheon will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Cartersville Civic Center, 435 W. Main St. The complimentary meal will consist of turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green beans, assorted homemade desserts, tea and water. While there is no delivery service available, organizers are encouraging churches to place group orders and carry the prepared meals to residents who cannot attend.
Expected to draw 3,000 diners, the event also will offer entertainment and free coats to attendees. To help this endeavor, area residents can deliver new or clean gently worn coats through Dec. 15 to Renasant Bank, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday to Friday.
For Jennings, one of the most touching aspects about last year's event was a girl about 9 receiving a colorful coat.
"There was a little girl who didn't have a coat and she had a little spaghetti-strapped shirt on and it was cold," she said. "Shaw Industries had brought over a lot of coats and there wasn't one that fit her. ... So she went in with her family and ate [with] her mom and little brother, and while she was in eating one of the volunteers went to Walmart and bought her a coat. I stood there and watched her beam when she tried this little purplish-pink coat on with a fur collar. I stood there and tried to [hold] back the tears in my eyes."
Last year, Jennings and her husband, Parnick, helped spearhead the first luncheon after receiving a call from Don Waterhouse, manager of human resources and general affairs for Toyo Tire North America Manufacturing in White. Due to the manufacturer's prosperity, Toyo's management wanted put the financial resources that previously funded a Christmas company dinner toward helping the residents of Bartow County.
"Toyo contacted Parnick and I, really just to find out who provided a Christmas luncheon," Jennings said. "So I called all around desperately trying to find somebody who did that and nobody did. I was surprised by that but at any rate obviously there was a need there to have a Christmas luncheon.
"So we made some phone calls and got a team together and found a caterer, somebody that was willing to be very generous with the food on a very limited budget. It took us about three weeks to organize the [event] last year and we had over 300 volunteers, which was phenomenal, and we fed between 1,200 and 1,400 people."
During last year's event, Waterhouse said he was impressed by how the community pulled together.
"We had people from all walks of life, businesses donating their time and donating food," he said. "The community just really stepped up and it was extremely well-organized. It was just as organized as anything I've ever seen. So that made a real impression on me, to see all those folks working and everything run so smooth. And then to see the folks that came in that got to partake in the food, that was extremely touching.
"I walked away feeling like we had a lot of folks that volunteered that helped out that got a real blessing and I felt like [there] was a lot of people that might not have got a good meal that day that got a blessing as well. It's just amazing [how the event turned out]. It's great. We're excited to be a part of it. I can't give Parnick and Tina enough credit for their organization in making this happen."
This year's effort again will be funded primarily through Toyo's donations. In addition to the tire manufacturer and Parnick and Tina Jennings, the event also is receiving support from local residents and the business community, some of which include the Cartersville and Bartow County school systems, Jessica Fleetwood with Bartow Business Connection, the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia, the United Way of Bartow County, Slope's BBQ, Barbecue Street and Diane Harris with Dale Carnegie of Georgia who is organizing the dessert donations.
Event organizers already have raised 75 percent of the $18,000 needed to provide the luncheon. In addition to financial donations, about $2,000 was raised from two fundraisers: a luncheon with former University of Georgia Head Football Coach Vince Dooley and a Christmas Parade Party.
To help raise the final dollars, WBHF will conduct a radiothon Thursday from 7 to 9 a.m. Along with placing donations by calling 770-386-1450, listeners also can drop of coats at the radio station, 7 N. Wall St., during the two-hour period.
For more information about the Community Christmas Luncheon, call Jennings at 678-899-9525. Bartow County Transit will provide free transportation to and from the event. To place a reservation, Bartow County residents need to contact Bartow County Transit 24 hours in advance at 770-387-5165.