BY PAUL A. BARRA
COLUMBIA — The annual Thanksgiving Feast co-sponsored by St. Peter Church and First Baptist Church has become so successful over the years that organizers have decided to branch out.
This year, the 1,200 or so fed at the Carolina Coliseum included college students who didn’t make it home for the holiday and was supplemented by 624 take-out dinners. The take-outs were delivered to nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the Midlands. They included all the turkey and stuffing and vegetables and desserts that were offered to the hundreds who filtered through the Coliseum all day.
“A lot has to do with the economic times,” said Robert Keeder, longtime organizer of the charitable event. “Our focus is on the homeless, the elderly, students who can’t get home for Thanksgiving and families who are hard-pressed during the holidays.”
Keeder said that it costs about $96 to feed a family of four a traditional Thanksgiving meal. He said they could save the money by coming to the Coliseum and use it for rent or utilities.
Older people who live in assisted-living homes are another story. Like some college students, all don’t get invited out for Thanksgiving dinner; they welcome the feast from the volunteers.
“Some of us are not going out or can’t get out, especially in this cold weather,” said Betty Waddell, a resident at the Finlay House in the Five Points section of downtown Columbia. “We used to have to go down to the Coliseum; this is much better.”
One thing the residents of Finlay House and other homes for the elderly missed by having their meals delivered was the fellowship enjoyed by the folks who dined together in the athletic facility on Assembly Street.
People were obviously having a good time in the company of so many others. They also enjoyed the entertainment and the festive decorations at the Coliseum. Gospel groups sang, clowns amused and the children were catered to at arts and crafts stations.
Keeder bought 500 balloons to decorate the cavernous rooms taken up by the tables for the massive feast. Each table was decorated and dessert tables were spectacles in their abundance and variety.
More than 300 volunteers gave up part of their holiday to feed and serve and entertain the people who needed a warm place and a warm meal for Thanksgiving.