The Thanksgiving spirit was alive and well at Café Central Tuesday as volunteers and organizers pulled together a major effort.
Baldwin County’s own soup kitchen serves as many as 500 free meals to underprivileged people each week, and Ann Bowen, director of Café Central, reported that once it was all said and done 750 meals had been served Tuesday.
Café Central operates weekly out of Freedom Church’s Family Life Center, and the place was really bustling Tuesday as soon as mealtime began at 11 a.m. sharp. Some were seated with family while others met up with friends, but all sat down around the table with one another enjoying a Thanksgiving meal of ham and turkey, dressing, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, field peas, a roll, cranberry sauce and desserts.
“This is a blessing,” said 58-year-old Freddie Hartry, a lifelong Milledgeville resident eating with his family Tuesday. “A lot of people have a hard time during Thanksgiving because they don’t really have anyone to look out for them. The church here helps a lot of people, and we’re really thankful to come here and have a Thanksgiving dinner. Some people didn’t wake up this morning, so we do have something to be thankful for. I thank God that we can come here and get a dinner and appreciate these people for looking out for us.”
Vietnam veteran Brian Carpenter has not missed a dinner at Café Central since first attending in January 2013, and his sentiments echoed Mr. Hartry’s.
“I love it,” Carpenter told The Union-Recorder. “There are a lot of great people here. On a scale of 1-100, the cooks and the servers are a 105. That man Jim is a wizard when it comes to food. He can put anything together and I guarantee you you’re not going to be unhappy.”
“That man Jim” is Café Central chef Jim Humphries who plans and cooks (with the help of volunteers) the meals each week. He says prep for Café Central’s Thanksgiving edition takes about 45 hours as opposed to about 10 hours on a normal week. The first step was baking the cornbread for the dressing which started last Tuesday while that week’s meal was still being served.
“With all the junk you hear on TV or read, to actually see our community sit down — white, black, job, no job, poor or money — and to have a time of fellowship and eating, this is what we need to see more of,” Humphries said.
The food prep isn’t the only thing that demands extra time. Café Central operates as a nonprofit organization, meaning it runs on both monetary and food donations.
“It takes a lot of planning to do particularly because it’s so expensive,” Bowen said of the Thanksgiving feast. “We have to plan a long time in advance and try to get people that will contribute different things.”
But when you’re doing good at the level Café Central has for these past 10 years, sometimes things just fall into place. For example, you might wind up with double the normal amount of volunteers the week the crowds come in for a Thanksgiving meal.
“Way more than usual,” Bowen said of the number of helpers on hand Tuesday. “We usually have about 40 volunteers, but I’d say we’ve got 80 today.”
Another example of things falling into place could be a Georgia barbecue joint receiving the wrong hams in their delivery. Such was the case with Fresh Air Bar-B-Que located in Jackson recently. What started as probably a major inconvenience to the business turned into a blessing for Baldwin County’s underprivileged.
“Instead of just getting rid of them, they called and asked us if we could use the hams,” Humphries said, “so all the ham we’re serving today was donated from Fresh Air Bar-B-Que.”
Bowen is hoping those blessings will keep rolling in for Café Central. She says the soup kitchen needs more donations to get through Christmas and finish out the year strong. Those interested may send their tax-deductible donations to Freedom Church at 500 Underwood Road and make checks payable to Café Central.