TUPELO • More than 4,000 Tupelo residents were served at the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday.
120 turkeys, 150 pans of dressing, 65 green bean casseroles, 55 pans of sweet potatoes, and many more dishes were prepared and served to attendees, Maj. Whitney Morton said.
The turkeys were smoked by Bar-B-Q by Jim and about 4,000 desserts were organized and collected by Romie’s Grocery with another pallet of cookies anonymously donated on Wednesday.
Whitney Morton and her husband, Maj. Ray Morton, moved to Tupelo five months ago to lead the Salvation Army. They have worked for the organization in several cities and states across the southeast over the past 18 years.
The Jim Ingram Lodge was opened on the Salvation Army’s Carnation Street campus in early October along with the newly renovated community center and soup kitchen.
“I can’t think of a more fitting way for us to say thank you to the community for building all of this than to give back, to use it to provide like this,” Whitney Morton said.
More than 100 community volunteers were on hand Thursday to organize, cook, serve, package and deliver food.
Bo Alexander said his family celebrated Thanksgiving on Tuesday and decided to give back to the community by helping out on Thursday.
“We’re all striving for the same goal and (it’s good) just to see people from all walks of life here and coming and helping the less fortunate,” Alexander said.
He said community meals like this show that “we’re really just one big family” and help to bring everyone together.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the people in need are just right there around you,” Neal Hobson, a volunteer from Pontotoc, said. “You never know it because they don’t ever show it, so giving back and doing this is a really big deal.”
Nicole Miller attended the community meal with her husband, daughter and two grandchildren.
Her family came to Tupelo from Winston County, Ala., two weeks ago. She said they’re currently staying in a local motel, just “trying to start over.”
“It’s touching, it really is,” Miller said. “To be able to come here means a lot.”
The annual meal started around 50 years ago when Jennie Lynn Johnson began cooking Thanksgiving meals in her home for the children taught at the Salvation Army. From there it grew over the years and now it not only feeds thousands, but offers a community setting on a holiday that can be lonely for many.
“What you’ll see is the wealthiest people in Tupelo sitting down with the poorest people and they’re having a conversation on equal footing,” Whitney Morton said. “There’s no difference.”
“Everybody’s just a neighbor,” she added. “It’s just like it should be.”
Johnson believes many of the people at Thursday’s dinner wouldn’t have a meal if it wasn’t for the Salvation Army.
“The state of Mississippi is the hungriest state in the union,” Whitney Morton said.
“Not today,” Johnson added.