(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Having worked in the nursing home business with her husband for 20 years, Marlene Stevens knows there's a need to take care of the elderly on holidays.
So when Beverly Baker, who started the Community Thanksgiving Day meal out of her home 20 years ago, stepped down in 2004, Stevens couldn't pass up the opportunity to help organize the event.
"We always made the holidays special for them," Stevens said about former nursing home residents. "... Families tend to forget their relatives during the holidays."
Although the annual meal is geared toward the elderly, families who don't have any place to go on Thanksgiving day can come to the dinner, Stevens said.
"They don't have to be poor -- just lonely on a holiday," Stevens said. Apparently, many people don't always have somewhere to go on Thanksgiving day -- a trend that may be on the rise.
In 2004, over 300 meals were delivered into the community and another 100 were served at the church. The following year, about 400 meals were delivered and 75 served at the church. Last year the number delivered increased to over 500 and including those served on the premises, the total was over 600.
"This year I received a letter from a Texas woman who checks on her father and brother who live here, and she asked if we could make sure and get them a meal," Stevens said. "That's pretty good when you get mail from all over the country."
On the Saturday before and Monday after Veterans Day, volunteers will walk to all senior citizen housing locations in Sikeston, Morehouse and Haywood City to see who will need a meal delivered on Thanksgiving day, Stevens said. "It's a big undertaking," Stevens said.
This year the meal will be prepared, served and delivered out of the SEMO Shrine Club building behind the VFW Ballpark off East Malone Avenue in Sikeston. Meals will be delivered beginning at 11 a.m., and the meal will be served from noon to 2 p.m. at the Shrine Club.
The meal includes turkey, dressing, greenbeans, corn, sweet potatoes, ham and a dessert.
Any leftovers from the meal are taken to the homeless shelter in Sikeston, Stevens said.
"Last year we even fed the fireman and policemen. We called them and said, if you're working, and you want to eat, we're here," Stevens said.
Donations of food and gift cards to purchase supplies are needed in order to meet the goal to feed the senior citizens in the community and surrounding area, Stevens said.
"It's our policy to not accept cash, but gift cards from Wal-Mart or Food Giant are acceptable," she said. "Food Giant gift cards purchased for the dinner will expire on Thanksgiving day. Wal-Mart gift cards are different, but we use them to go to Sam's Club to get styrofoam containers."
Examples of items needed include institutional sizes of corn, green beans, instant mashed potatoes or large cans of sweet potatoes, chicken broth and cream of chicken soup.
Those who would like to donate desserts are asked to bring them on Thanksgiving day or the day before, Stevens said.
In addition to visiting areas where elderly tend to live, Stevens sent about 100 letters to churches and civic clubs in town, asking for their support.
For about the last eight to 10 years, the American Legion has donated turkeys prepared by a local grocery store. This year some of the members have volunteered to prepare the turkeys themselves, said Blair Moran, American Legion chaplain.
"We just appreciate the opportunity to help provide Thanksgiving dinner for those in town who don't have anywhere to go," Moran said, adding the dinner is a worthwhile cause.
Although she isn't sure how many people volunteer to help with the dinner, Stevens said there are "enough to fill up the kitchen."
Last year volunteers came as far away as Portageville, and there was a Charleston man who helped, Stevens said.
"The generosity of the community in the past has been overwhelming, and we look forward to enjoying that same spirit of giving again this year," Stevens said.
Donations may be made until Nov. 16. Gift cards may be sent to: Marlene Stevens, 212 Kate Drive, Sikeston, MO 63801 or Linda Bollinger, P.O. Box 281, Benton, MO 63736. Canned goods may be dropped off at 212 Kate Drive in Sikeston or call to get them picked up. For more information, contact Stevens at 471-8697 or Bollinger at 545-3679.