Thousands attend food giveaways

Published 9:05 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

Volunteer Keith Brown hands out frozen turkeys at LeOtis Williams’ food giveaway on Saturday.

Thousands of families will eat better this Thanksgiving after two annual food giveaways on Saturday.

Impact Suffolk, a cooperative of area churches, held its food giveaway behind the Farm Fresh on North Main Street. The line snaked around the parking lot of the Howard Mast Tennis Courts, and churches handed out boxes of stuffing, cans of green beans and more they had collected from their congregations.

“It’s amazing to see how much need there is out here and that we’re doing a small part to help,” said Connie Bowen of Magnolia United Methodist Church. She and fellow volunteers were handing out boxes of stuffing.

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By the time the event was over, 759 families had gone through the line, according to volunteers. That was fewer than in past years, but volunteers hesitated to say that was because of an improving economy.

Connie Bowen of Magnolia United Methodist Church puts boxes of stuffing into Janet Dildy’s bag at the Impact Suffolk food giveaway on Saturday. Nearly three dozen churches collected food and participated in the event.

Plenty of volunteers — about 200 — came out as well, said Okpun Langley, president of Impact Suffolk.

“So many young people giving their Saturday morning to come out here and volunteer,” Langley said. “I see a lot of people praying for one another. We need to do more like this as a united body of Christ.”

The volunteers included Nansemond River High School’s basketball team, accompanied by Coach Ed Young.

Recipients were grateful for the food, which was handed out with no income restrictions.

“I think it’s a good thing they’re doing for the community,” said Andre Drayton, whose family received food.

“This is what it’s all about,” said Randy Bryant of Revelation Church, which meets at Deep Creek High School. “Where else are you going to find 33 churches, coming together, laying down their differences to serve the poor?”

Across town at LW’s Lawn Service on Old East Pinner Street, folks were in line early in the morning to get food. Frozen turkeys were handed down from a truck, and bags of collards, cabbage and sweet potatoes were distributed.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” said Kenneth Gainous, who received food. “It will help a lot of people. It really helps me, I’ll tell you that.”

One woman, who declined to give her name, was among the first in line for food and was so touched she decided to stay and help out.

“I might not have the money to help, but I can help with my time,” she said.

The giveaway is organized by lawn service owner LeOtis Williams, who started handing out a few turkeys nine years ago. The event has grown ever since, and this year more than 2,000 turkeys were ordered. Folks were in line until at least an hour after the event was set to end.

“I just enjoy giving back,” Williams said. “I want to continue to be a blessing to not only people in Suffolk, but the people in the Tidewater area.”

Others doled out praise for Williams, who mostly pays for the food — worth more than $20,000 this year — from his own money and proceeds from his businesses.

“The more successful he becomes, the more he gives of himself,” said his uncle, Fred Blanchard. “There are people who make three times what he makes and don’t give a third of what he gives.”

Tony Bowden, the Portsmouth chapter president of Alpha Phi Alpha, also hailed Williams.

“Mr. Williams has done an awesome job,” Bowden said. “It’s great to see all the smiling faces.”

Bowden said his organization will definitely be back next year for the 10th anniversary. Williams said special celebrations are already in the works for next year.