Someone once decided to make sure hungry people in Bulloch County had a meal on Thanksgiving Day.
Twenty-eight years later, more than 600 volunteers work to feed more than 3,000 people each year at Thanksgiving. And they are working to find ways to expand their efforts.
Feed the Boro began with Jimmy Anthony and the members of Gracewood Baptist Church. That first year, they fed 100 people a Thanksgiving meal, and during the first few years, the numbers swelled to around 1,000, and the event outgrew the facility at the church. It was moved to Statesboro High School, where the meals are still prepared and served up today.
In the years since its inception, Feed the Boro has prepared and delivered more than 60,000 Thanksgiving meals. In 2018, 3,200 meals were served, with 300 to 600 meals going to both Candler and Evans counties, in addition to those served in Bulloch.
“There are a lot of people in our community on Thanksgiving Day that don’t have a good Thanksgiving meal,” said Don Poe, who chairs the committee that leads Feed the Boro. “We have found over the course of time that the other important part is that a lot of them don’t have family around anymore. So it’s a sense of loneliness.”
Poe serves on the committee with Dewayne Grice, Karen Phipps, Louise Fletcher, Daisy Hollingsworth, John Long, Mary Poe and John Love, who pastors the First Assembly of God, the umbrella under which Feed the Boro operates. Poe says this is important because “we don’t want to do it without including God into it.”
The committee realizes the need is great, and they are looking to grow their number.
“We could do much more. The need is there to do more. But you have to also logistically think of how much we can do and make it successful,” Poe said. “The population in the county has grown, and with growth comes problems.”
Poe says FTB’s leadership has been addressing the increased number of those who are food insecure in the county. According to Feeding America, 19.6 percent of Bulloch County’s population is food insecure, which means they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
“We’re an agricultural type of community, and there are people that just don’t have a meal,” he said. “It can be backed up by just looking at the school feeding programs. Langston Chapel this past year qualified for 100 percent on breakfast and lunch feeding.”
This means, Poe said, that there are kids in school each day that won’t have a family Thanksgiving.
“We work very closely with the Board of Education to make sure that child has a Thanksgiving meal, but also to make sure that his siblings, his mother, his father also have a Thanksgiving meal,” Poe added.
FTB’s leadership has also looked at how they can improve the efficiency of the annual event.
“What we have really focused on the last three years is the righting of the ship,” Grice said. “There were a lot of things we were doing right, and there were a lot of areas that we saw that needed improvement.”
Grice said they focused on efficiency, numbers and growing the event. They have worked on gaining sponsorships, including presenting sponsor Bi-Lo; Platinum sponsors D&R Automotive, J.C. Lewis Ford, Sega Golf Tournament, First United Methodist Church and Davis Marketing; and other sponsors Tippins Polk Insurance, Dr. Richard Marz, Queensborough National Bank, Statesboro Oral Surgery, Century 21, The Hunter Group, ERA Hirsch Real Estate, RE/MAX Eagle Creek Realty and the Knights of Columbus. These sponsorships are crucial, Grice said.
“We went from inheriting something with no money in the bank, not knowing how we were going to feed people, to we have almost enough now to carry it for two years. That’s kind of our goal, to raise enough money to make sure this thing is supported year after year,” he said.
The volunteer side of things has been refined as well. Interested parties can now sign up online to volunteer. Poe said they really wanted to create a better experience for the volunteers, who work over a two-day period.
Many of the people who come to volunteer are the large sponsors, who show up with their whole team, he added.
“This is Thanksgiving Day. That just tells you how amazing this community is and how incredible it is that people come. So it’s important to us that they have a great experience because that’s what has continued to grow this,” he said.
The committee has also scaled down the menu, and focused on bringing in people who are experts on feeding large groups of people. Adding Bi-Lo to the mix has been invaluable, Grice said, as they provided expertise in the kitchen, as well as helping with food procurement.
In addition, an efficiency expert was brought in from Great Dane to look at the logistical management of the serving line. Melissa Long, who works with Human Resources at Great Dane, takes control of the line and is “really good at it,” Grice said.
A couple of years ago, the decision was made to let people eat in. Some people are just looking for companionship. And there are no financial restrictions. Anyone who calls can get a meal, Poe said.
“We do that because what we find is that a lot of people we deliver to, it’s not that they can’t afford the meal, they just don’t have somebody to prepare it for them. But more importantly, they’re lonely,” he added.
Suicide rates are very high nationwide around the Thanksgiving holiday. Georgia ranks 17th in the nation for suicides, according to an annual report by www.americashealthrankings.org. The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that from 1999 to 2001, 2,620 Georgians committed suicide, an average of 873 deaths per year.
“We’ve made a large impact, I would think, just on that,” Grice said. “Not only do we want to feed them physically, but we want to feed them emotionally, and let them know there are people that care for them.”
Grice says FTB’s leadership is looking for an opportunity to cultivate the event into a larger one. They are open to partnering with civic or religious organizations, but still want to be under the umbrella of a larger church, so that they can take a look at how they could engage more than once a year.
“You have a qualified base of volunteers, a large number of volunteers that are just sitting there. If you’ll come out on Thanksgiving Day, will you come out another day?” he said.
Volunteers come from all over the area. An e-mail is sent out each year the first week of October to those who have previously volunteered, and then during the second week, the call is made publicly. There is a link on FTB’s Facebook page for volunteer sign-ups. No training is required, Grice said. Instructions are given on the day of the event, and then the work begins.
In the midst of the cooking, turkeys being de-boned, meals being served and the clean-up that follows, the volunteers receive even more than they give.
“I think naturally we want to help other people. I think naturally we are a good-hearted race of people. It’s what we want to do, and I think that passes on. That’s what the people who help get out of it,” Poe said.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity to touch a lot of people in an incredible way,” Grice added. “Mr. Anthony was really on to something when he started this, and we’re honored to have the role that we have.”
For more information on Feed the Boro or to volunteer, call Poe at 912-541-0411, or find FTB on Facebook, @feedboro. To request a meal, call Christian Social Ministry at 912-489-2407, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.