Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
While many spent their Thanksgiving with family eating several servings of turkey and watching football, others in the community focused their time on spending the holiday as it was originally intended, giving.
Sam's BBQ & Catering held its Sixth Annual Thanksgiving Day Celebration at its location on 414 E. Hill Ave.
"We're expecting to feed about 500 people," said Margo Watts, co-owner of Sam's BBQ and Sam's wife.
Watts said while Thanksgiving is a time that Sam's traditionally serves hot meals to the homeless, their efforts cannot be contained to just one event or one day.
"We chose this day to give back but all through the year we see and help the homeless," said Watts.
Aside from a hot plate of food that included turkey, ham, rolls, macaroni and cheese, green beans and potato salad, Sam's also had a table set up offering free clothes, jackets and winter necessities for anyone who needed them.
"We're giving away clothing that's all donated," said Watts.
Several organizations came out to show their support for the cause. One of the biggest was the 2 Wheel Riders.
"We get with Sam every year. It's a good thing he does," said 2 Wheel Riders President Kenneth Lane. "2 Wheel Riders is more than just a bike club."
Lane said it just gives you a good feeling to see people do good for their community like Sam does.
"It's just a joy to come see people that have nowhere else to go get a hot meal," said Lane.
National Council of Negro Women members came out to serve the community as well.
"This is our Thanksgiving initiative," said NCNW President Sharah Denton.
Denton and three others were loading up plates of food and handing them out. A small gesture that means a lot to those who need it most.
"I don't have anywhere else to go," said Anthony Wingo. "When you're homeless, you don't even have anywhere to cook dinner."
While Wingo was one of those people who really needed a hot meal, he did not let his circumstances stop him from giving back himself.
"Like last year, I set up tables and chairs," said Wingo as he ran around the restaurant taping down tablecloths so they wouldn't blow away.
There wasn't one person at Sam's BBQ either volunteering or receiving help that didn't praise Sam for his work.
"Everybody needs somebody," said Jeffrey Griffin. "Everybody sure appreciates what Sam does. He's pouring his heart out as best he can."
Carol Price, who was traveling through from Iowa, heard about Sam's Thanksgiving event from a homeless person.
"I felt this was a good way to give back to the community and participate in something meaningful," said Price.
Just across town, members of the Park Avenue United Methodist Church, Lowndes Associated Ministries to People and various other community volunteers also served some 500 hot Thanksgiving meals.
"We started last year where we feed pretty much anyone that shows up," said Jamie Bone with Park Avenue United Methodist Church.
Last year, the church fed about 350 people, and aside from topping that number by 150, it also delivered 300 meals to the poor and homeless around town.
"We wanted to give those in need, those who are down on their luck and those who are marginalized and have no family, a Thanksgiving meal," said LAMP Outreach Coordinator Matt McMurray. He said this outreach is moving for those who volunteer their time.
"It's a special way to reflect on Thanksgiving and it really helps us put it in perspective," said McMurray.
Seventeen-year-old Abi Bishop, whose father is the Park Avenue pastor, was more than happy to spend her Thanksgiving helping those in need.
"It's just kind of shocking because in your town, you never realize how many people don't have what you have," said Bishop.
One of those people was Ben Shipe, who travelled into Valdosta on Thanksgiving from Middle Georgia to find work.
"I'm basically homeless and jobs were dry there," said Shipe.
Shipe was a bank teller and worked for the government for 12 years.
"The biggest challenge is a lot of people don't understand what it's like to be homeless," said Shipe.
Shipe said he used to be one of those people who would drive by a homeless person and assume they were a bum. He now knows that not every homeless person wants something for nothing.
"So many people out here are wanting free handouts," said Shipe. "I'm willing to work. I'm the most unsympathetic homeless person you'll ever meet."
For Shipe, it took falling down to find meaning in life and to find God.
"Like Dennis Miller said, nobody goes to God on prom night," said Shipe.
While Shipe is in town on a whim hoping to find work, he was thankful that he found a good meal and good company.
"You see their smiles and you see their hearts," said Shipe.