Giving Heart hosts free Thanksgiving feast for community

Giving Heart hosts free Thanksgiving feast for community

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The 14th Annual Giving Heart Community Thanksgiving Feast attracted thousands of people to the Richmond Convention Center Thursday.

The free event with food, clothing and gift bag giveaways typically attracts anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 people.

"I think it brings the community together as a whole, the city as a whole, brings them together for one purpose where everybody is treated equal for at least one day of their life,” said volunteer Rob Giddens.

"Well I guess mom instilled that in me to be a people's person," said Ken Pollard.

For Ken Pollard he was raised to have an outgoing personality which came in handy later in life.

“I was in the Navy for nine years,” he said. “I’m used to being around diverse situations, diverse scenery.”

Thursday’s scenery at the Richmond Convention Center brought people of all backgrounds to the table.

"From day one it had always been about centering around the fellowship of the table," said founder and Executive Director of The Giving Heart Vicki Neilson.

Which is why tables at the event were decorated in various styles, in hopes of creating that welcome feeling.

“Imagine you’re at home, this is your dining room and you’ve opened up your door and you see people walking by and say come on in, be a part of this,” Neilson said.

Every person who attended the feast was greeted by a host of young people called Youth Ambassadors.

"We become one big happy family inside this venue,” said volunteer Sandra Antoine.

For 14 years The Giving Heart has put together this Thanksgiving Feast. Since then it's evolved into a massive operation.

This year The Giving Heart teamed up with Kroger who donated $6,000 to the feast, covering the costs of turkeys, vegetables and dessert along with other items.

“2,000 pounds of turkey,” Neilson said.

"We’ll serve the plate with the ham, turkey, the dressing, the green beans and stuff of that nature,” Giddens said.

The operation attracted more than 800 volunteers and table hosts of all ages to give back to others, like six-year-old Journey Colman.

“It made me feel proud, happy,” Colman said.

In addition to a meal, the event had entertainment and a distribution space for people to pick up necessities like boxed/canned food and toiletry bags.

"[We have] clothing, toiletries, we have food bags, blankets,” Neilson said.

While many things have changed over the years, Neilson said what she’s noticed most is who is coming to the table.

"There was always a stigma, if you will, where this was only for the homeless,” she said. “Now more and more people are learning about this and saying I want to come and be a part of this."

“I just love people and coming out doing this today, it’s awesome,” Pollard said. “It’s awesome."

But for 59-year-old Pollard, he's used to a different Thanksgiving setting.

“Oh I was doing the cooking, which I didn’t have any problem doing,” he said.

You see, this is Pollard’s first time at the Community Thanksgiving Feast. The reason, his mother passed away two months ago.

“I kind of felt, kind of depressed because she wasn’t there and there wasn’t any cooking going on so I had to come where some people might be,” Pollard said.

Mingling among people he’s never met, but all who share something in common - fellowship.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Pollard said. “Giving thanks and just being around people.”

“I get a lot of satisfaction in seeing people and how joyful they are with this,” Neilson said.

When it's all over, volunteers leave just as fulfilled as everyone who shows up.

"They thank us,” said Rusty Colyer. “As long as they have a big smile, it puts a smile on our face. It's worth the effort.”

For more information on the event, click here.

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