(Posted Nov. 30, 2018)
By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer
What makes for a good Thanksgiving meal? Is it the turkey and gravy? The mashed potatoes and stuffing? The rolls and butter? Or better yet, the assortment of pies?
If you’re thinking about what is on and to the side of the plate, perhaps all of those are the answer. But for the dozens of volunteers who came out to Phat Daddy’s Pizza bright and early on Thanksgiving Day, the most delicious treat is preparing hundreds of meals to make people happy.
“This day means everything to us because we know it means everything to others,” said Roger Roberts, brother of Angie Harris, owner of the London restaurant.
The mission to feed and deliver meals to the greater Madison County community on Thanksgiving began more than six years ago when one long-standing service organization could no longer afford to do the same.
“We started doing this when the HELP House announced they wouldn’t be able to one year,” explained Harris. “I was talking with my girlfriend, Anna [Bingman], about what a shame that was and then we just looked at each other and said, ‘Well, why can’t we do it?’”
Shortly after their spur of the moment decision, they began sending out feelers to gauge the community’s interest in a free Thanksgiving meal and then began seeking donations to prepare the feast. Harris said their first try at preparing and delivering meals was something of a disaster.
“We were so disorganized,” she said with a laugh. “We didn’t know exactly what we were getting ourselves into.”
They tried again the following year after receiving positive feedback from those who received meals at their homes and at the restaurant.
“It makes me so emotional thinking about how people reacted,” Roberts said. “Some people told us they were going to spend this day alone and without a cooked meal if it wasn’t for us coming to see them [to deliver a meal and talk]. Hearing that just makes all this effort completely worth it.”
As the years passed and the meal orders went up, so too did the need for volunteers. Looking for a family service project, London resident Heather Peters decided this event would be the perfect thing to do with her husband and young children.
“I thought doing this would be a wonderful thing for my kids,” she said, referring to her now 12-year-old daughter, Lauren, and 9-year-old son, Jack. “It teaches them how to help out, and it teaches them how to be grateful for what they have.”
Fellow parent volunteer Lisa Jackman said volunteerism is what the holiday and community is all about.
“What I love about this community is that we look out for each other,” she said. “When someone is in need, we lend a hand.”
While pie slicing volunteers worked the day before Thanksgiving, the majority of the volunteers involved in the effort put their time in on Thanksgiving Day.
“Some of us got here at 5:30 a.m. to get started,” Harris said.
Early morning duty included preparing the ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn and stuffing. The crew stirred, supervised and prayed they wouldn’t flip circuit breakers. Meanwhile, more volunteers began arriving at 7 a.m. to stuff bags full of pie, rolls, butter, and utensils. Lauren and Josh Peters and their friend, Justin Jackman, manned the roll and butter station.
“Being in charge of the rolls is the best,” said Josh Peters.
“Yeah, we just sit here and put in the bread and butter,” added Justin Jackman, 11.
“But we’re hard workers,” said Josh.
Nearby, their parents were speed walking through the rectangular dining room, placing other goods in bags.
“We’ve been doing this for a few years now,” said Lisa Jackman, “so we’ve almost got this down to a science.”
For more than two hours, the families repeated this scene for the cold meals and drinks while the hot meal volunteers continued to stir, prepare and pray. Around 9:30 a.m., the first of seven sets of drivers came to deliver meals to hundreds of residents throughout the county.
“We do this because it’s a good thing for the community,” said Erin Harris, Angie Harris’s daughter-in-law who delivers meals, “and because it [personifies] what Thanksgiving is all about.”
In total, the volunteers at Phat Daddy’s Pizza helped to prepare, deliver and serve more than 500 hot and cold meals to residents who would otherwise not have a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Angie Harris said they hope for even more next year.
“Our goal every year is to grow,” she said, adding that she has no worries about meeting the demand. “We have a community that will be there for us, just like we will be there for them.”