Seven years ago, a simple idea of sharing the extras from a Thanksgiving meal started what now has become a Havelock tradition spreading good will and good food to hundreds of the area’s less fortunate.
Sisters LaTanya Roane and Rene Drake, of Havelock, had just finished work when they came up with the idea about a week before Thanksgiving in 2006.
"It was she and I in the truck when we first started talking about ‘Hey we ought to feed people for Thanksgiving,’ but our house is not big enough so that’s how it started," said Roane. "I just thought, ‘Man, we just cook so much food for Thanksgiving and half of it’s going to go to waste because we have a heavy hand in cooking. It would be nice if we could feed other people, too.’"
The sisters then just started talking up the idea.
"We were only about five days shy of Thanksgiving," Roane said. "As soon as we decided, the phone rang. We told somebody else and it just rolled downhill by itself and here we are."
At that first dinner in 2006, 25 people came out to enjoy the free meal. Last year, 375 dinners were served.
Grateful Heart Community Outreach Ministries now sponsors the annual meal.
"We were trying to carry out God’s command where we are God’s hands and feet and it gives me great pleasure to serve as such, especially during the Thanksgiving season," said Drake.
The sisters now have the help of about 15 volunteers and a long list of financial supporters that include the Havelock-Cherry Point Rotary Club, Annunciation Catholic Church, Clifton Management Rentals, Town and Country Rentals, Fellowship for Christ, Havelock Ministerial Association, First Carolina Realtors, New Beginning Ministry of Faith, Havelock Community Missionary Baptist and various others.
"We started it because we just wanted to feed people … people who didn’t have any place to eat … strangers who were just coming into town and didn’t have any place to go eat," Roane said. "So we just opened the doors. And God did the rest."
Roane said the effort wouldn’t be possible without volunteer cooks like Jodine Gibbs of Havelock.
"I cooked last year and the year before and the year before, and it was wonderful," Gibbs said. "I love helping anyone who needs it."
The turkeys and hams come cooked in kitchens all over the region served with some traditional and non-traditional Thanksgiving side dishes.
"I’m going to bring a couple of hams," said Terri Fetzer, who with her husband Barry and son Adam will also be delivering meals on Thanksgiving in the Newport and Morehead City area for the fourth year.
"It’s a time when you really give thanks for being able to help other people. You can see how grateful people are. You can see it in so many people’s eyes. It really touches their heart. They are grateful and they are touched for someone reaching out and helping them," Fetzer said. "I think it’s been very beneficial to so many families. It’s amazing how many people are served at this event."
Theresa Howard, of Havelock, has cooked for the last seven years, and her husband Alexander and daughter Kayla help.
"It’s a good cause — to feed other people who don’t have food on Thanksgiving Day," Howard said. "It’s the spirit of giving.
"It’s good to help others. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, so when you need some help, it will come back to you."
Some prefer to donate financially to allow for purchases of needed food and supplies.
"We all think so much of LaTanya and her charitable efforts," doner Sue Boyer said. " … I think it’s just an effort to make sure everyone has a good meal on Thanksgiving. While everyone may not be able to do what LaTanya does, we can certainly support her with our donations."
Nate Johnson is president of the Havelock-Cherry Point Rotary Club, which has annually donated money to support the cause.
"It’s just a good thing to do," he said. "We try to support them as much as we can. I think it’s a great job that they are doing here for Havelock. I really appreciate them doing this for the Havelock area. I’m very happy that someone here is looking out for people and especially for our senior citizens who need it during this time."
The free Thanksgiving dinner is scheduled from 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Oasis Café, suites 24 to 27 in the Professional Plaza at 925 East Main St., in Havelock.
For shut-ins or those unable to get to the Oasis Café, deliveries of meals are available but must be secured by Monday by calling 626-6144 or 447-5426.
Anyone wishing to volunteer as a cook or make a monetary donation for the Thanksgiving meal can call 626-6144.