MILLEDGEVILLE — Patricia Smith made her usual stop at Cafe Central Tuesday with her daughter and grandson to fill their stomachs with a hot, fresh meal. She and her family are planning on enjoying their first Thanksgiving spread at the soup kitchen this year along with an anticipated crowd of more than 1,000 people.
“I come here every other Tuesday. The food is delicious, and all of the help and volunteers are real nice,” Smith said while finishing her meal. “It means so much to me because they’re helping me. I don’t work anymore, so it helps. I want to thank the volunteers for what they do; I like the way they treat us.”
As Milledgeville’s only soup kitchen, Cafe Central will once again bestow blessings to individuals less fortunate with a hearty holiday meal from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Freedom Church.
“We’re anticipating serving over 1,000 meals based on the last two years. At the present time, we’re going to cook 75 turkeys and serve dressing, cut green beans, cranberry sauce, cornbread and desserts,” Cafe Central volunteer David Stiles said Tuesday. “We had a Milledgeville native who wants to remain anonymous raise over $2,000 for our Thanksgiving service. We want to thank all of the people who have already donated this year and in the past; everything that is donated here is used up and absolutely nothing goes to waste or is thrown away.”
Cafe Central offered its first Thanksgiving meal in 2010, feeding 300 people. After a number of volunteers enjoyed providing the holiday meal to families that may not otherwise have the opportunity to celebrate with heaps of food, the soup kitchen was able to feed 1,400 people during its Thanksgiving meal last year through donations.
“It takes approximately 90 volunteers that day to man the kitchen. We need people here on Nov. 20 as early as 9 a.m. that can stay until 1 p.m. The second shift is from 1 to 3 p.m. and the last shift is from 3 to 6 p.m. with clean up after. We need volunteers even earlier to help carve the turkeys, pick the carcasses clean and prepare for the 11 o’clock service,” Stiles said. “We really need donations of homemade desserts, that’s the biggest problem here.”
Dessert donations for the Thanksgiving meal must be placed in disposable, non-returnable containers and dropped off at Cafe Central between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19. Number 10 food cans of green beans and cranberry sauce are also being requested for the holiday meal. Various canned food items, flour, sugar and paper products, including paper towels and toilet paper, are needed to keep the food pantry stocked.
“Any Tuesday between now and Nov. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., we will be here so people can drop off their canned goods,” Stiles said.
Ann Bowen, director of Cafe Central, said the spirit of Church Central Pastor Jeff Simmons helped her push through the difficult times during the soup kitchen’s early days. With the helping hands and selfless hearts of nearly 60 volunteers, Cafe Central is now able to feed 400 people within a span of two hours each week.
“When I retired, I went to Church Central to help with paperwork and filing. Every single day, people would come knock on the door and say they needed something to eat. [Simmons] would fix people something to eat, but the number of people just kept growing. I told the pastor that we needed a soup kitchen ... he was the driving force that kept me going, and he gave me the tools to do it. So here we are three years later,” Bowen said. “We rented the building next door to the church and we ended up losing that building. God stepped in and led [Freedom Church Assistant Pastor Tim Thomas] to us. We never expected to have anything this wonderful. The whole spirit of the kitchen and the people involved is totally selfless.”
Georgia College student Rebekah House has been donating her time to Cafe Central since last spring semester.
“I love getting to talk to people; it’s really nice. I’ve gotten to know some of the people that come to the soup kitchen, and I even see them outside of here. I definitely plan on volunteering for their Thanksgiving,” she said. “Hearing their stories definitely affects your outlook in life. There’s one lady that comes here who is a Hurricane Katrina victim and her daughter has cancer. The lady is now taking care of her grandkids. You would never know what she went through by looking at her.”
“I used to come here to eat, and then I decided to volunteer; Thanksgiving will be two years for me now,” added Mary Cooper while sitting at the donation table handing out clothes and loafs of bread. “It makes me feel so good to see people get a hot meal; it brings me great joy.”
Pamela Milner said the community has blessed her family through Cafe Central’s open heart.
“I’ve been coming here for a while with my family. I think the soup kitchen was a good idea, and it’s been a blessing to us,” Milner said. “I appreciate them for letting us come here, especially during the summer when school is out and it’s a hard time to feed your kids; it’s just a blessing.”
“[The soup kitchen] helps most of the homeless people as well,” Jovan Goddard added after completing her plate. “God has blessed us to have a place like this for everyone to come to who needs it. I’m going to come for Thanksgiving, too.”
Bowen said Cafe Central is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization. Hopefully earning the status early next year, the soup kitchen will be able to seek grants and other resources to help fund and supply an upward growth.
“We’re going to stand on our own as a separate part of the church. [Simmons] is a wonderful example and such an awesome person; without him, the soup kitchen would’ve never been here,” Bowen said. “We still want to expand to other days of the week, but we’re going to have to do something about growing money in order to do that.”
For more information about the soup kitchen or to donate funds, supplies or food items, call Bowen at (478) 457-7213 or Stiles at (478) 414-1978.
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