High demand, abuse can't mar Thanksgiving meals for needy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 23, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
Last Thanksgiving, Greg and Agne Kakavitsas decided to help their friends and neighbors.
They’d purchased Anchor House, a seafood restaurant near Rockwell, and transformed it into a family restaurant with full menu.
To give back to their community, they held a free Thanksgiving meal.
Greg said the food was a way to help those in need, and those with nowhere to go.
This year, when word went out he’d offer another free Thanksgiving meal, there was a lot of interest.
But it wasn’t all what he expected.
“I have one guy who comes in and says they want to bring thirty people, like a family reunion,” Greg said.
“I told him, ‘We don’t do that.’ Older people who cannot cook for themselves, maybe small families who come in here.”
This year, Greg said he’ll offer free meals from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
After that, the restaurant will open for paying customers with the regular menu.
Even with those limited hours, he said he expects to serve about 300 meals.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
But he knows that not everyone who passes through his door is really in need.
That’s the problem faced by many church groups, charities and businesses who open their doors to the needy at holiday time.
For Michael Mitchell, associate pastor at Southern City Tabernacle AME Zion Church, limited resources mean his group can’t help everyone who needs it.
Members of his church have partnered with Fairview Heights Baptist Church and Mt. Zion Baptist Church to form Workers of the Vineyard, a community outreach group.
This year, Mitchell said, 40 families were chosen to receive cooked pork shoulders free of charge on Thanksgiving.
That’s not enough, he said, to serve the true need in the community.
“I’ve already had 250 and more to call me about these pork shoulders, and we can only give out 40,” Mitchell said.
“Some of them say they have nothing but a carton of eggs in their refrigerator,” Mitchell said.
In an announcement sent out to publicize the food offer, the ministry stressed that it was “for the needy, not the greedy.”
Still, Mitchell said, there’s no choice but to trust those who ask.
“I leave it in God’s hands,” he said. “You know, if they don’t really need it, they’re going to have to deal with God for that.”
“I had to turn people down, and that just hurt my heart.”
In Kannapolis, members of Memorial Baptist Church are gearing up for their nineteenth annual free Thanksgiving meal.
It’s advertised as being “for the needy and lonely,” to either eat at the church fellowship hall or to be delivered in the nearby community.
Bob McVay, one of the organizers, said Memorial is once again partnering with other churches to meet demand.
“Right now were on pace for about 3,000 (meals),” McVay said.
He said that there have been more than 1,700 requests to have meals delivered to 300 homes in the area.
“That’s just under five meals per home,” McVay said. “That doesn’t work.”
He said that church members and others have complained that people who don’t really need the food are taking advantage of the system.
“We occasionally have someone who comes in and wants 50 meals,” McVay said.
He said they deal with those kinds of requests on a case-by-case basis.
If there’s a true need, they will try to fill it if there are enough supplies.
“I’m sure there’s abuse,” he said. “But we just look at it as a project we are designed to take care of. When we run into challenges, they somehow get met.”
And, McVay said, at least one member who had complained about the abuse changed his mind when he volunteered for the event and saw those who truly are in need.
“When you get outside of the world you live in, when you see what people are having to deal with, you see how blessed you really are. It brings everything into scale.”
That’s what Greg Kakavitsas said keeps him motivated – not the thought of who might abuse the system, but the good he’s hoping to do.
“I go with the flow,” Kakavitsas said. “I just want to give the message that the people who need it can come. That’s what it’s all about at Thanksgiving, you know.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.