The Thanksgiving season has been difficult for Winston-Salem resident Antonio Steele.
Early last week, Steele, a native of New Haven, Conn., said it would be the first Thanksgiving he would have to spend without his mother, who passed away earlier this year.
“Thanksgiving’s going to be real sad for me,” related Steele, who has been “in and out of homeless shelters,” as he puts it, for the past several years.
Still, the 48-year-old said there are things he’s thankful for: his life and the hot meal he knows he can expect to find at the Samaritan Soup Kitchen on Thanksgiving Day.
Volunteers pitched in the days leading up to the holiday, to ensure that diners at the Soup Kitchen would have a special meal to savor last Thursday. Soup Kitchen Assistant Jonathan Reid fired up a massive propane grill in the parking lot behind the building on the Tuesday morning before Thanksgiving and began cooking 50 mouthwatering turkeys seasoned with Reid’s custom blend of spices for the Thanksgiving meal. The former Army chef said the roughly eight hour shift he was slated to spend at the grill was a labor of love for him.
“I love feeding the homeless. That’s something that I always wanted to do, so I’m blessed that I got called to do this,” said the father of two, who spent nearly two decades in the military before discharging in 2004. “It’s time for me to give back.”
Sgt. Dave Eckert, an Army Reserve recruiter who volunteers monthly as a dinner leader at Samaritan, brought fellow recruiter Sgt. Jason Bacon and Creshawn Sparks, a new recruit, to lend a helping hand at Samaritan on Tuesday.
“I just think that there’s a need,” Eckert said of his motivation to get involved in the effort. “Whenever there’s a need, as citizens of a country that provides so much for us …it’s not too difficult to give back and show people that you care.”
Eckert, who is expecting his fourth child, says the he has enjoyed volunteering at Samaritan for the last year.
“It gives me great joy to volunteer and participate because it humbles me,” declared the South Florida native. “It kind of brings me back to earth when I think my life is tough.”
Sparks, the oldest of four children, enlisted in the Army in June, making good on his lifelong dream of becoming a soldier.
“The Army is the best option for me,” said the 2012 Carver High School alumnus. “It’s not really much out here for me to do that interests me, but the Army is always interesting.”
Sparks, who will start basic training Jan. 7, worked in the kitchen cleaning the turkeys and preparing them for roasting. The 18-year-old said he was happy to join the two sergeants at the soup kitchen.
“I wanted to help and they offered me the chance to help, because I like helping people,” he related. “It’s been a good experience.”
Soup Kitchen Manager Cathie Strader said Thanksgiving is always memorable for soup kitchen guests.
“They really like to come. They dress up, usually, like they’re going to church,” said Strader, who has worked at the soup kitchen for the past 13 years. “Some of them go to their parents or their neighbors, but some of them come here first, and they say that this is where they like to spend Thanksgiving because this is really their family because they eat here everyday. It really is special.”
The soup kitchen typically serves around 300 guests on Thanksgiving day, a significant drop from the average attendance of 400 on a regular day. Strader said many take advantage of other holiday meals being served that day at churches, agencies and other sites. But for those who do come, the smile of a volunteer and a home cooked meal may be the highlight of the holiday.
“Sometimes, this is the one constant thing in a guest’s life,” she related. “They know that Samaritan Soup Kitchen is going to open everyday, no matter what else happens in their lives.”
Samaritan Ministries, which comprises the soup kitchen and an overnight shelter for homeless men, will host its 21st Annual Penny Campaign on Saturday, December 1 from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. at 110 Oakwood (across from Thruway Center). The community is encouraged to bring donations of unrolled coins, dollars and checks to help the organization meet the needs of the hungry and homeless people in our community this holiday season. The agency will be accepting donations for the campaign at its headquarters, 243 N. Patterson Ave., through Jan. 31, 2013.
For more information, visit www.samaritanforsyth.org.