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A generous helping for Turkey Day

COVINGTON -- One of the largest Thanksgiving meals is already being prepared. The Rev. Willie Smith of the Newton County Ministers Union is in the process of organizing the 21st annual Thanksgiving meal for the less fortunate residents of Newton County.

"We just want to help people. That's what this ministry is all about. We've been doing it for 21 years ... just helping those less fortunate. That's our goal," Smith said.

Members of churches and of the community have always stepped forward to make the feat of serving between 700 to 900 individuals a Thanksgiving meal a possibility. And though times are tough, Smith expects this year to be no exception.

"It's a countywide thing. People who volunteer get blessed and they help people along the way," he said. "This year we're looking for a higher number of people because so many are unemployed."

Smith said enough food will be prepared to serve 1,000. The menu will consist of the traditional turkey and dressing, giblet gravy, green beans, potato salad, cranberry sauce and assorted desserts with tea and lemonade to drink. And for those who want to walk on the wild side, venison will also be available.

"We'll cook deer for those who love to eat deer. A young man has donated a deer," he said.

Donations are needed to get the meal on the stove -- canned vegetables and desserts "are the two main things," Smith said, adding that financial donations are also needed.

The meal is prepared and served at Sharp Learning Center on Newton Drive beginning with a prayer of thanks for the food at 11 a.m., Smith said. Food will be served until 2 p.m., and for those who don't want to come to the school, or for those who can't attend, take-out plates are available.

"We do more take-outs than we do serve-in," he said. "Newton County people are very proud, so they don't like to show up at the table, but they'll take it home or get somebody to come and get it for them. We make sure nobody goes hungry in Newton County. That's our goal all year long."

Smith said he's made arrangements to have four buses go out into different areas of the county to bring people to the dinner.

Volunteers are needed to prepare the feast. Preparations begin the day before Thanksgiving around noon, Smith said. More volunteers are needed to finish preparations and serve Thanksgiving Day.

"We usually have 20 to 25 churches participating one way or another -- financially or some of their members volunteering," Smith said.

Also, this year Smith said a table will be set up to give away coats and shoes for those who need them.

"We want donations if somebody has coats and shoes. Now, I don't want a whole lot of clothes, just the coats and shoes," he said.

People who want to make cash donations should make checks payable to the Newton County Ministers Union and note "feed the hungry" on the check. Mail it to P.O. Box 1101, Covington, GA 30014. Donations of canned goods or other food items can be taken to the Newton County Community Food Bank (labeled for the Thanksgiving meal) at 7125 Turner Lake Circle.

For more information on how to volunteer, call Smith at 678-212-9039 or the Food Pantry at 770-784-0037.

Smith said the only qualification for those who want to eat the Thanksgiving meal is to "just show up hungry."