A year ago, Virginia Canion would have hosted Thanksgiving at her Chattanooga home.
But after losing her job in 2009 and then her home earlier this year, Canion had nowhere to go to celebrate the holiday.
“I usually have a place everybody eats at,” she said.
This year, Canion sat among hundreds of other homeless people and was served a steaming plate of turkey, gravy, stuffing, sweet potatoes and pies at the Chattanooga Community Kitchen’s Thanksgiving feast. She hoped for a few minutes to forget her troubles.
“There’s a lot of depressed people this time of year,” Canion said. “And a lot of people wouldn’t know where to go.”
As the clock ticks past 11 a.m., the Community Kitchen’s cafeteria is packed wall to wall. Crowds line up in the hallway waiting to be seated. The smells of spices and sweets fill the foyer.
Disabled war veterans, locals homeless for years, public housing residents and recently homeless eat together at long rows of tables.
While the Community Kitchen feeds nearly 200 people each day, the numbers double and triple on Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Charlie Hughes, the Community Kitchen’s executive director.
The delicious plates attract more than just the homeless and locals who live in the surrounding area like in Patten Towers apartments show up, as well, Hughes said.
Dedrick Davenport, who lives in the East Lake Apartments, said he came to enjoy a good meal but was overwhelmed by the food and the volunteers.
“I’m just overwhelmed with the love and joy,” Davenport said.
This Christmas, he said he plans to help serve the food instead of being on the receiving side.
About 175 volunteers showed up to serve plates, fill glasses and clean the tables — a list that was compiled nearly three months ago, Community Kitchen officials say.
Jeff Leatherwood and his family decided to celebrate Thanksgiving this year by volunteering at the shelter.
“We have so much we want to help give back,” he said.
At the front of a table, Leatherwood’s 18-year-old daughter, Claire, stood passing out plates.
She said she didn’t know what to expect when they arrived but was surprised by the friendliness and warmness.
It’s great to see so many volunteers who want to help during the holidays, said Eddie Clinton, who volunteers twice a week.
But Clinton said he wishes more people would consider volunteering the rest of the year.
“These people need help all year long,” he said. “We have 365 days they’ve got to eat.”
Joy Lukachick is a crime reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing down ...