SIKESTON -- Plans are under way for the annual community Thanksgiving Day dinner -- an event that fed approximately 600 area senior citizens last year.
But for the first time the dinner's originator, Sikeston resident Beverly Baker, won't be at the forefront. Baker will be still be involved, but has passed the torch to Marlene Stevens of Sikeston.
"I'm proud to be able to carry on what Beverly started," Stevens said. "She started out of her home the first year providing 75 meals, and it just grew and grew."
Baker began serving free meals to needy senior citizens in the area 16 years ago. The meal eventually moved from Baker's home to Concordia Lutheran Church and later to Mission Missouri, where Baker called it quits in 2001 when she was providing meals for nearly 400 people. She and fellow volunteers returned last year, cooking at the First Baptist Church in Sikeston. Preparing holiday meals for large numbers isn't new to Stevens and her husband, George. The couple have worked in geriatric care for years, having opened the Sikeston Convalescent Center over 30 years ago.
"We're targeting seniors -- people who have given to the community all these years and may have outlived their peers and children and are now alone," Stevens said.
Having been a nursing home administrator, Stevens said she has seen how some people treat their mothers and fathers and how some children live so far away and can't come in for the holidays.
"We want to make it where the seniors don't feel alone and don't feel forgotten," Stevens said.
On Thanksgiving Day, meals will be offered at no charge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the First Baptist Church on North Main Street in Sikeston.
Any food left over is taken to the women's shelter and given to the homeless so nothing goes to waste, Stevens said.
American Legion in Sikeston cooks the turkeys while other businesses furnish items for the event. Although cash donations are not accepted, gift certificates from Sikeston Market Place and Wal-Mart are and are used to purchase the food for the meal.
"Everybody is always so generous," Stevens said. "With the hurricanes I thought everyone was still feeling like they've been asked to give and give, and I'm still awed at the fact they're still giving."
There is concern this year about the high gas prices affecting volunteers to deliver meals.
"But I think it will work out just fine. We've tried to keep delivery in one area so you're not driving from one end and back to the other," said event volunteer, Linda Bollinger. "We're asking people to volunteer with whatever they can -- however much and however little."
And there's no small part, Bollinger said.
"I know there are a lot of people that want to do something and they think what they want to do is too small. That's not so. I would like the busy mother preparing dinner for her own family to drop off a green bean casserole or pie because she made extra," Bollinger said.
All volunteers from years past are welcome to return as well as new ones, Stevens said.
"You'd be surprised at how many give up Thanksgiving Day to help us," Stevens said.
For example, this year Judy McConnell of Sikeston and her family are planning to volunteer Thanksgiving Day. Her son and his family are coming in from Texas to help with the dinner.
"We've always done the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but this year the children are much older," McConnell recalled. "...We thought to show our children and grandchildren that people who don't have anything can come and get something, our children can see they are more fortunate than other children."
McConnell admitted she has never physically helped with the dinner, but has donated food in the past. This year her family will help Thanksgiving Day, whether it be to help deliver, prepare or just visit, she said.
"I think it will be exciting and rewarding and to show the community the love we have," McConnell said.
And the ultimate reward is irreplaceable, Bollinger said.
"To go home tired and happy -- that's the nice thing about it," Bollinger said. For more information about volunteering or donating, contact Stevens at 471-8697, Bollinger at 382-3679 or the church at 471-4122. Gift cards may be mailed to First Baptist Church, 1101 N. Main, Sikeston, MO 63801.