As a homeless man in Kansas City, Dan Askew frequents the weekly Wednesday meals served at the 24 Hour Faith Training Center.
But though he is a regular, he didn’t know what was in store when he walked in this past Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving.
The church, at 2605 Prospect Ave., joined forces with local chefs and nonprofits to serve up a holiday feast: turkey, chicken, mashed potatoes, yams, macaroni and cheese, green beans, stuffing, salad and rolls. Plus cakes and pies for dessert.
Askew waited in line, piled two plates full of Thanksgiving cuisine and walked back to his seat. He took a moment before digging in to bow his head and say a prayer.
“I come here sometimes on Wednesday for the meal,” Askew says. “I didn’t know they would be doing all this. I am thankful. Everything looks real good.”
In the past, these organizations have held their own separate holiday events. But this year they found the power of working together, creating a feast cooked with love and care, feeding not only the body but also the souls of those in need.
“We want to get everybody in need into our building,” says Pastor Timothy Hayes. “Not just the homeless, but the elderly and people who might not be physically able to get out and get a plate.”
As the owner of Shawnee soul food restaurant What’s on Your Plate, Hayes knows all about feeding people. However, it is the meals he doesn’t get paid for that he holds as more valuable.
Soaring inflation has meant many already struggling residents have had to cut back at the grocery store. Many community organizations, like the Know Joey Foundation, put on an annual turkey drive and saw more people in need than in recent years. That’s all the more reason for the groups to work together.
The church’s top floor, overlooking the pulpit, saw a room filled with an assortment of people: parents and children, couples, elders and those without a home. The spirit of community truly filled the building.
Here are some of the folks who helped make it happen:
‘Pour back into my community’
When Shelle West started Show Me You Care KC in 2019, she knew her organization could not stand alone to tackle the many issues facing the urban core. So, in the spirit of unity and cooperation, the 33-year-old KC native teamed with various organizations, churches and chefs to bring the homeless and needy their Community Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner. West wanted to help not only the homeless population but also just those struggling to make do with what they have.
“I started my organization because growing up we didn’t always have the things we needed and seeing my single mother try to make ends meet,” says West. “Seeing her struggle to make sure everything was handled by having the bills paid and children fed. I wanted to be able to pour back into my community and work with the people.”
West is a nurse who has always had close ties to the community; those ties have only increased through her nonprofit. The organization targets at-risk groups like the youth, homeless, domestic violence survivors and felons. One of Show Me You Care KC’s yearly events is its prom sponsorship, where they team with local designers and beauticians to help girls cover the expense of going to their prom.
For their first Thanksgiving three years ago, the nonprofit collected turkeys, passed them out and provided a meal to those in need. Later, West wanted to partner with local organizations to create a massive event to feed the maximum number of needy people.
“This year, I wanted to get more businesses involved with giving back to the community. I want to show businesses the importance of pouring support back into the community and working together toward the same goal,” says West.
‘Blessings are meant to be shared’
One longtime collaborator is DiMond Piggie, owner of Golden Gate Funeral and Cremation, 2800 E. 18th St. Though his business deals with death and loss, Piggie makes sure to use his resources to pump life back into the community.
“I was brought up in the church, so giving back is just who I am,” says Piggie, 46. “I am blessed to be in a position to help, and I always believe that blessings are meant to be shared.”
Piggie, who usually donates turkeys to families in need, contributed funds for food and staff. Though no stranger to community service, such as scholarships for Lincoln Preparatory Academy, sponsoring local little league teams, holding a coat drive, aiding in resources for housing and employment, and a toy drive during Christmas, Piggie still wanted to do more.
“I feel like the community makes us who we are. Without their support, we wouldn’t be successful businesses. When we are in a position to give, it is important to give support to those who have supported you,” he says.
Piggie prefers to do his work behind the scenes, in the spirit of selfless giving instead of shameless self-promotion. The Kansas City native and father of three remembers his early days and the lack of people interested in giving back. He is happy to see young Black leaders stepping up to fill those voids.
“You just didn’t used to see this. You would see churches doing community stuff, but you didn’t see many organizations or individuals on the streets like that. We can see it so much more now with this younger generation, and it is amazing,” he says.
‘I wish I could help everyone’
Tameka Fulson participates in the Faith Training Center’s praise team and sings in the choir. She was excited to watch this year’s Thanksgiving project come together.
“I was a foster kid, so I know what it feels like not to have certain things,” says Fulson, a 37-year-old mother of two.
“I have had to work hard all my life, so I tell my daughters it is always great to help people because you don’t know when you may need help,” she says. “I wish I could help everyone I see in need, but I can’t. However, we all have to start somewhere and do what you can.”
Fulson, in addition to her work with the church, owns Always Dream Sweets Catering, one of several community-oriented chefs lending their culinary skills to pull this meal off.
Fulson has seen the initiatives and participation grow year by year. For the church’s God’s Plan holiday program, members go into grocery stores and purchase food for families at checkout lines with their own money. For the past three months, 24 Hour Faith Training Center has had a partnership with Aldi to donate fresh meat to families in need.
“Shelle has worked with us before, but this is our first time working with her organization,” says Fulson. “She was already doing an event, and we were too, and we decided to come together and do it together. We wanted to have a place that would be a central location in the city instead of having multiple locations.”
At the dinner, care packages with food items collected by the many people involved were distributed. Fulson and the leadership at the church are happy to build these new ties with organizations dedicated to bringing much-needed services to the metro year-round and not only during the holiday season.
‘A village raised me’
Another chef instrumental in the massive community Harvest Dinner is 32-year-old Lannie Smith, owner of Kommon Centz Catering and one of the founders of The DRIP (Dreams Rooted in Purpose) Dispensary.
Having done her own community-based Thanksgiving meals since 2017, Smith reached out to West to add her resources to the event.
“Giving back is so important to me because a village raised me,” says Smith, who sits on the board of directors for the nonprofit The Village KC. “If it wasn’t for people looking out for us and helping, I wouldn’t be in this position today. It is us as a community to tackle these problems ourselves and not wait for people to solve it for us.”
The 32-year-old chef has seen her Thanksgiving initiative grow and evolve, with her first inaugural dinner providing 25 dinners up to last year feeding over 400 people in the community. Smith and her team also box up dinners over the holiday to deliver them to shelters and people on the street who won’t seek assistance.
With Smith being well known in the community for catering galas, weddings and other extravagant events, she is only too happy to bring her gourmet food to the less fortunate.
“We want these people to experience food that we would eat and want to feed our families. There is a certain amount of dignity that people should be able to maintain. Something as simple as a nutritious meal that tastes good can make such a difference,” she says.
Last Wednesday, even after everyone was served, a large amount of food remained. It was then boxed up and sent with several volunteers to deliver on the streets to those in need.
“We understand a lot of folks won’t just come in off the street,” says Hayes. “So it is important to us that we are going out into the community and bringing help to those who may not feel comfortable asking or accepting. We go everywhere there may be people in need, from shelters, under bridges and the tents.”
Church members invited people on the streets to come inside to accept a meal. They approached Jay Long, who at first looked anxious and hesitant but soon was put at ease by the volunteers’ caring demeanor.
“These are some really good people,” he says. “I am thankful to have some really good food. I haven’t got a chance to taste it yet but it look really good.”
Though he was offered a spot to sit and eat with those gathered, Long preferred to take his food with him and headed back out into the chilly November night.
How to help
If you would like to support these organizations you can email them here:
▪ Show Me You Care KC, firstname.lastname@example.org
▪ 24 Hour Faith Training Center, email@example.com
▪ Golden Gate Funeral Home, firstname.lastname@example.org
▪ The DRIP (Dreams Rooted in Purpose) Dispensary, email@example.com