Dinner at Bea's: 20,000 guests, and nobody leaves hungry

November 26, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

An article Friday about Bea Gaddy's annual Thanksgiving dinner in East Baltimore incorrectly reported who provided and installed tents used at Dunbar High School for the event. Tents were from Loane Brothers Inc., a Hampden-Woodbury firm, which provided them for the fourth consecutive year.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Nearly 20,000 needy people turned out on a chilly, damp November day for free turkey dinners, groceries and winter clothing at Bea Gaddy's annual Thanksgiving give-away on the grounds of East Baltimore's Dunbar Senior High School.

The dinner -- backdrop during the early morning for a national television show -- offered a moving portrait of Baltimore's poor.


Lines of people, including the homeless, the drug-addicted and fresh-faced schoolchildren clinging to their mothers, huddled against the damp weather waiting for a hot meal and a couple of bags of groceries.

Alvina Richardson and her two school-age sisters arrived at the Dunbar complex at 9 a.m. -- one hour before nearly 2,000 volunteers began serving meals. They waited in line as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke led forth a group of politicians, corporate benefactors and ministers who offered kind words and prayers before cutting a red ribbon in front of the huge tent that covered the temporary dining hall.

"This is real nice," Ms. Richardson said. "I'm glad they want to help people out."

Bea Gaddy, the East Baltimore legend who heads a host of social service programs, including a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, has been the driving force behind free Thanksgiving dinners for more than a decade.

Her first Thanksgiving meal for the needy was in 1981. It fed 39 people in the kitchen of her home, and it was paid for with `D money she won with a 50-cent lottery ticket.

Organizers estimated that 20,000 meals were served yesterday -- including several thousand dinners that were delivered to shut-ins.

The turnout apparently fell well short of the 27,000 people organizers had predicted for the event. Last year, organizers said the event served 34,000 meals to more than 23,000 people.

Organizers weren't sure why this year's turnout was smaller. But the number was still, by far, the largest fed by any charitable entity in the area. Goodwill Industries, by contrast, served about 2,000 meals at its annual dinner Wednesday.

Joining in this year's Bea Gaddy effort were Maryland prison inmates who prepared turkeys and pitched tents and set up tables. The dinner also was supported by several sponsors, including the Roy Rogers restaurant chain, WQSR radio station and Perdue Farms.

The event, which was featured yesterday on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America," is billed as the largest of its kind in the United States.

Yesterday's menu included hot turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, greens beans, cranberry sauce, rolls, pumpkin pie, milk and coffee.

After eating, people left loaded down with large shopping bags of groceries and winter clothing.

"I feel extremely good now," Mrs. Gaddy said as she stood in the trailer that served as the dinner's nerve center. "I know that if it is nothing but a can of pork and beans, the people who come here will have something to eat tomorrow. I'll keep doing this as long as the need is there."

In all, Ms. Gaddy said, she had amassed enough food to serve 30,000 meals -- not including what was delivered by hundreds of people who brought unsolicited donations. Preparations began

days ago, and cooking earlier this week.

Marsha Thompson, a U.S. Postal Service employee, brought 300 bags of candy to the dinner. "It is just a treat for the children after they eat," she said. "When you see the homeless on the street, you wish you could bring them in. This is just my way of giving thanks and making a contribution."

Clowns tried to brighten the many grim faces waiting in line, and choirs sang from a stage set up for the dinner.

Del. C. Ronald Franks, an Eastern Shore dentist and a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, stood at the exit of the food tent giving away thousands of tubes of toothpaste and tooth brushes.

"This population has very high dental needs," said Dr. Franks, who said he aimed to spread the word about dental care as

much as he was trying to trumpet his candidacy.

Pam Townsend, a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins

University School of Public Health, was among the volunteers who helped out with the dinner. She said she arrived at the Dunbar complex at 8 a.m. to bag groceries, and she was glad to be there.

"I think it is wonderful that people are in such a giving mode," she said. "This might sound idealistic, but if we could apply this team spirit in every area of life we could have a major impact."

Willie Abraham, 57, a laid-off factory worker who lives with his sister in East Baltimore, said he was happy the meal was available.

"I'm not the type of guy looking for a handout. It's just one of those things," he said. "I enjoyed the food here -- it was good. But I don't feel good about needing this."

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