The Rev. Terrell Shields credits his then 4-year-old daughter Terrica with inspiring the annual Thanksgiving Love Feast 31 years ago.
“What happened is, she was in daycare and the teacher was trying to get them to eat all of their food and she told the kids there were people who didn’t have anything to eat on Thanksgiving,” Shields recalled Wednesday. “When she got home that day, she asked us if that was true that some people didn’t have anything to eat on Thanksgiving. When I told her it was true, she said, ‘Can’t you do something about that?’ I was being challenged by a little toddler.”
The Shields family of Greater Mt. Calvary Baptist Church — including his older daughter Cherish and his wife Sylvia — have been at it ever since and have seen the annual tradition at the Rome Civic Center grow from 900 diners the first year to more than 3,000 meals served last year.
“Thirty-one years ago, we thought 900 meals was a lot,” he laughed. “I remember former city manager John Bennett saying, ‘My God, I didn’t know there were that many needy people in Rome.’ Well, we’ve discovered there are more and more every year.”
As always, the event from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Nov. 28 takes a lot of money, food, clothing, and “warm body” donations in the form of volunteers to pull it off.
“We’re in the process of raising money for it, so if anyone wants to make a donation, it would be greatly appreciated,” he said.
Checks can be sent to Thanksgiving Love Feast at P.O. Box 161, Rome, GA 30161.
Or, Shields said, “they can call me and I’ll come get it.” He can be reached at 706-506-1224.
He said they usually have about 100 volunteers serving food, delivering food to the homebound and helping keep things organized on the day of the event. He said they like to spread the volunteers out between three two-hour shifts: 9 to 11 a.m., 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 1 to 3 p.m.
Many of those volunteering are from local nonprofits such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, church youth groups and civic organizations.
Shields said a coats-and-warm-clothing collection will be taking place the night before the event from 6 to 8 p.m. to enable volunteers to separate and organize them before doors open on Thanksgiving. Bring any donations to the Civic Center at that time.
“We also need desserts and they can drop those off the night before, too,” he said.
Another Rome church, Second Baptist Church at 500 W. Main St., also will be offering a free Thanksgiving meal from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 28, including free deliveries within city limits. Those desiring a delivery must call the church office at 706-638-2732 before noon Nov. 21.
Additionally, the Lovejoy Baptist Church Soup Kitchen at 436 Branham Ave. will be open Nov. 23, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and will have a Thanksgiving Day Service at 11 a.m. The community is invited.