Expecting 18,000, Bea Gaddy feeds thousands more Hard times, curiosity draw record crowd

November 27, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

In yesterday's editions of The Sun, Abe McCauley, a voluntee coordinator for Bea Gaddy's Thanksgiving feast in East Baltimore, misstated Ms. Gaddy's feelings about how large the event has grown. Ms. Gaddy said yesterday that she has no second thoughts about how the event is publicized or about the fact that she served 23,000 people. "We want it big as long as people need us," Ms. Gaddy said.

The Sun regrets the error.

With his combat fatigues, boots, and walkie-talkie, Abe McCauley appeared well-equipped for the task at hand yesterday: coordinating Bea Gaddy's effort to give 18,000 free dinners and 7,000 bags of groceries to the needy.

That was the plan. But Mr. McCauley was not ready for one thing -- the size of the crowd.

A unexpectedly high total of 23,467 came and ate dinner on the grounds of Dunbar Senior High School in East Baltimore, said Edward Segal, a Washington-based publicist for one of the firm's backing Ms. Gaddy's effort.


About 18,000 turned out in 1991, he said.

Mr. Segal said the Gaddy organization was able to meet the extra demand because it had received a lot more food for sit-down meals than had been anticipated.

That was fortunate, because by 7 p.m., organizers believed they had served about 34,000 meals -- which means more than 10,000 people "decided to come twice," Mr. Segal said.

Even more people were in line when Ms. Gaddy's event closed, as planned, at 7 p.m., but no more food remained to be served. Mr. Segal attributed part of the huge turn-out to free transportation that was offered by the Metropolitan Transit Authority to the event.

And there was also a "to go" portion of Ms. Gaddy's heroic Thanksgiving. By mid-afternoon, all 7,000 bags of groceries were gone, and Ms. Gaddy contacted radio and television stations to issue a citywide appeal for non-perishable food.

As a result of those pleas, various donors brought enough food to fill hundreds more bags, Mr. Segal said, although he didn't have an exact figure.

"It really is not in the interest of Ms. Gaddy to increase the number of people coming," said Mr. McCauley, who advises Ms. Gaddy on the operation of her East Baltimore shelter and soup kitchen. "But times are hard. And to some extent, I think the novelty involved in this event is making Bea have second thoughts about how this is handled."

Mr. McCauley said that hoopla generated by the food give-away -- it was sponsored by a radio station, helped by a huge discount store chain, featured on "CBS This Morning" and nominated for entry in the "Guiness Book of World Records" -- may have drawn some curious among the needy.

The publicity did help attract 1,500 volunteers and donations of everything including turkeys, messenger trucks to deliver food to shut-ins, and straw to keep the mud at a minimum in the food line.

But Mr. McCauley lamented that the attention added a bit of a carnival atmosphere to what remains a pure mission for Ms. Gaddy: to help those who cannot help themselves.

"It's not good news that we have more people," Ms. Gaddy said, as she surveyed the orderly lines of needy people that snaked around the Dunbar campus. "This tells me things are getting worse and worse for people. We haven't done our jobs in making it so people don't have to get in line for food."

Monique Crawford, 24, was at Dunbar just after noon. She had walked more than a mile for free food from her home near Federal and Port streets, with her 5-year-old daughter and two young cousins in tow.

"We have food. But we didn't buy Thanksgiving dinner. We just did not have the money," a smiling Ms. Crawford said, looking up from a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. "When you're on a fixed income, you have to buy food that will keep you going all month."

Ms. Gaddy organized the largest Thanksgiving dinner in town yesterday. But many others, including churches and neighborhood businesses, offered free food to the needy.

In West Baltimore, more than 500 people turned out for free chicken dinners offered by Ilias "Louie" Protopapas, the owner of the newly refurbished Silver Moon Carry-Out, a restaurant in the shadow of the Lexington Terrace high-rise buildings.

Once people got their food at the Silver Moon, they were invited up the street to Curly's Harbor City Hall, where they dined to music from the private club's stereo system.

"Obviously, we are not as huge as Bea Gaddy's operation, but we have the same kind of idea," said Jackie Brown, who joined other members of the Concerned Citizens for Poppleton Neighborhoods in serving the meals.

Inside Curly's, the scene was warm and friendly, with small groups of people clustered at banquet tables eating their meals, while old friends gathered around the bar sipping drinks and swapping stories.

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