The Coastal Georgia chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Atlanta-based nonprofit Hosea Feed the Hungry join forces this holiday season to help the working poor and homeless in Savannah.
After the Coastal SCLC posthumously honored civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Hosea Williams earlier this year, the two organizations began to discuss the possibility of creating a satellite program in Savannah, the HTFH's first partnership outside of Atlanta.
Hosea Williams, who played an integral role in desegregating Savannah, created HFTH 40 years ago to help feed the homeless during the holidays. Since then, the group has grown from hosting an annual Thanksgiving dinner into a year-round social services organization that hosts four holiday meals, as well as providing assistance with jobs and housing.
"For the first Thanksgiving dinner, he and his family drove around and picked up people who were out on the street and took them to a local church where they cooked them a holiday meal," says Andrew McDill, the HFTH Marketing Director. "It just grew from that."
The event now feeds over 30,000 people every year in Turner Field.
"No way are we near doing what they are doing in Atlanta or the services they provide," explains Rev. Carl Gilliard, president of the Coastal SCLC. "But it's a tremendous honor, and a start to having something like this in Savannah."
While the local SCLC is just starting their new holiday tradition, they have an ambitious plan for the first Thanksgiving event, which will take place Nov. 23 at 5 p.m. in the Salvation Army Center on Bee Road. In addition to providing hot meals for 500 families, or upwards of 2,000 people, there will also be health screenings, live entertainment, donated clothing and information about employment opportunities and job training.
To get a crowd of thousands fed, the HFTH has donated over 100 turkeys as well as other supplies. But Gilliard says they will still need more turkeys, as well large canned goods like corn and green beans, and other donations like clothing.
They're also looking for additional volunteers to help with preparing and serving food.
"The key thing right now," he says, "I'll tell you this from my heart, we really need help."
If the first event is a success, Gilliard hopes to grow the SCLC program into something more comprehensive.
"The long term of it is to look at things that they are doing, helping people," explains Gilliard. "They are showing them how to get assistance, really trying to help people in an ongoing basis, from haircuts to health care."
The Coastal SCLC is already planning another event for Dec. 23 at the same location. Earlier this summer, they started an emergency food pantry for local families in need.
"There are families that are going through rough times," he says.
For Gilliard, honoring the legacy of Williams and partnering with HFTH has tremendous personal meaning.
"I met him in 1983 and I didn't know about civil rights, politics, anything. He became my mentor up until about two months before he passed away," Gilliard remembers.
"It's not an easy mantle. In all my years dealing with the community I've never dealt with anything on this level, but this first one will teach us a lot as a model."
SCLC/HFTH Thanksgiving Dinner
When: Monday, Nov. 23 at 5 p.m.
Where: Salvation Army, 3000 Bee Rd.
Info: To RSVP, to volunteer, or to donate call 349-2908 or visit www.sclcsavannah.org