After 18 years, advocate for poor organizes her last Thanksgiving meal

Bomb threat interrupts dinner provided by Gaddy, soon to take council seat

November 26, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

After organizing free Thanksgiving dinners for the last 18 years -- including a huge feast yesterday -- Bea Gaddy will step aside as she takes her place on the Baltimore City Council.

Gaddy, 66, a longtime advocate for the poor and homeless in East Baltimore, was elected to the 2nd District in November and will take office next month. Her charity organization will continue to run under new leadership.

"I will give the reins to someone else," said Gaddy, standing outside Dunbar Junior High School yesterday. "But I will not run away."

Gaddy's organization had planned to serve more than 23,000 Thanksgiving meals yesterday at the East Baltimore school and distribute another 27,000 throughout the city. The dinner was one of several citywide programs, including a brunch at Our Daily Bread.

Gaddy's afternoon was marred about 2 p.m. when a worker at her headquarters in the 100 block of N. Collington St. called to say a bomb threat had been received. Fearing someone might attack the school where people were dining, Gaddy stopped the dinner until learning the threat was a hoax.

Leftovers from Dunbar Middle School were delivered to various soup kitchens and the rest was stored. Gaddy plans to give out food again today from her Collington Street address.

Most of Gaddy's food was donated by businesses and private givers. The turkeys were prepared in the kitchen of a Hagerstown prison.

"This has been a very good day," she said, standing near a line of diners about 50 yards outside the school.

Inside, people waited to get helpings of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans.

A Baltimore-based music group, the Remnants, provided live gospel entertainment.

About 300 to 400 volunteers worked throughout the day, bustling around the cafeteria, cleaning tables and bringing desserts.

There was almost a shortage of bread and pie, but volunteers called grocery stores as far away as Glen Burnie for donations.

Before diners left, they were given a bag of food to help them through the week.

Beverly Davis, 49, brought her 1-year-old goddaughter, Diamond Leas, from their home near Sparrows Point. Davis said the food tasted "home-cooked."

Davis fed Diamond green beans while she talked about how wonderful the dinner was and how thankful she was for Gaddy.

"A lot of people wouldn't have Thanksgiving dinner if it weren't for her," said Davis.

Across town, volunteers at Our Daily Bread were finishing up as the lines started growing at Gaddy's dinner.

Our Daily Bread began serving brunch, including slices of ham and egg casserole, at 10 a.m. and ran until noon. About 600 people turned out, said Jackie Coyle, director of Our Daily Bread.

Coyle said Our Daily Bread held a late-morning meal rather than compete with the other programs.

"We knew most of the folks would head from here to Bea Gaddy's," she said.

Asked if this would be the last Thanksgiving meal at the site on Cathedral Street, Coyle said they'd probably be there another two or three years.

Catholic Charities, which runs Our Daily Bread, has been discussing relocating the soup kitchen since last summer.

Local businessmen have become concerned about aggressive panhandling, loitering and car break-ins attributed to soup kitchen patrons.

A site was found in East Baltimore's Brentwood Village but residents fought to keep the soup kitchen out. Catholic Charities announced in July that it would find another location.

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