Gaddy centers face shortage

Poor could be turned away if food donations don't come through


For decades Baltimore's best-loved good Samaritan made it her business to assure the city's poor that on Thanksgiving, savory hot turkey, hearty stuffing and homey slices of pie weren't just for the privileged.

Through Bea Gaddy's tireless efforts, thousands enjoyed holiday dinners every year. And when she died in 2001, her friends, relatives and admirers vowed to continue the "Thanksgaddy Day" tradition in her name.

But four years later, Bea Gaddy Family Centers are anticipating a dry season.

A week before Thanksgiving, they're desperately short of food. With what little turkey and other food they have on hand, the organization anticipates having to turn some hungry away. And it has nowhere near enough canned and dry goods to send people home with their usual food baskets.

"It's just not happening," Connie Bass said yesterday with frustration. The director of the Bea Gaddy Family Centers said it's bad enough to disappoint the needy. But failing Gaddy is almost too much to take.

"This means so much to us," she said. "Not only because we're dedicated to feeding people, but because Bea gave her life to this program."

Bass said she doesn't quite understand why donations this year are so scant. Her best guess is that maybe after emptying their pockets for such recent disasters as Hurricane Katrina, people are tapped out.

"I don't really know," she said. "We started early and are doing everything we would normally do."

Called Baltimore's Mother Teresa, Gaddy organized her first Thanksgiving dinner for the needy in 1981, feeding 39 people with a $290 lottery windfall.

It was said that Gaddy, who lived in East Baltimore, couldn't stand to see people hungry. After all, she knew firsthand how it felt.

Growing up poor in the South, she often was forced to skip meals. And one winter, the struggling mother of five saw the heat turned off in her Baltimore home when she couldn't pay her bills.

"I had a lot of time that winter to sit down and think about what being poor and hungry does to a person inside," Gaddy once told The Sun. "I never wanted anybody to know I was in such bad shape because you think being poor and hungry is all your fault. ... Then I just started asking people to help me. And that helped me help myself."

The center Gaddy founded fed as many as 20,000 people on Thanksgiving some years. It also collected Christmas toys and distributed coats, blankets and hundreds of pairs of shoes in the winter.

Yesterday, City Council President Sheila Dixon announced that Baltimore's fourth annual Bea Gaddy Day Campaign raised more than $15,000. But that money that will go to the centers' year-round activities, and not necessarily next week's holiday meal.

This year, the centers expect at least 30,000 people for the turkey dinner and hopes no fewer than 2,000 of them will leave with food baskets to tide them over for a few extra days.

Bass said if such a shortage happened on Gaddy's watch, "I think she would stand up on some table and holler real loud." Instead, Bass and others will make noise in Gaddy's honor.

"We're going to get it done," she vowed. "We're going to feed people until we can't feed them anymore."

As word of the crisis spread, businesses and institutions began responding.

When Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele heard, he arranged for a food drop-off station at the State Center offices in Baltimore.

Steele helped the cause with a case of soda, and Department of General Services Secretary Boyd K. Rutherford hauled in a 25-pound bag of rice and several cans of corn and green beans.

"Whatever we can do to assist," Rutherford said.

Shoppers Foundation kicked in $5,000 to help cover the meal.

Though welcome news, this help alone is not enough.

One of Gaddy's daughters, Sandra Briggs, said people might not realize her mother's efforts are continuing.

If they did, she said, things would be piling up.

"We're still asking for everything," she said. "Everything is really in need."

Everything is no exaggeration.

The desperate situation has Briggs nervous but not defeated.

"She told us that if something would happen, we had to promise to keep it going," she said of her mother. "We just got to continuously pray and ask God to give us strength."

Bea Gaddy Family Centers need donations for holiday dinners and take-home baskets.

What's needed: For the dinner: Turkeys; chicken parts; cans of gravy; large cans of sweet potatoes and green beans; cakes and pies; plastic utensils, paper plates and napkins. For the take-home baskets: canned goods; nonperishables, such as rice, pasta, peanut butter and cereal; and toiletry items.

How to give: The 425 N. Chester St. headquarters will stay open 24 hours a day accepting drop-off donations up to Thanksgiving. Money donations can be sent to P.O. Box 38501, Baltimore 21231.

Volunteer drivers are also needed. More information: 410-563-2749

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