Thanks to those giving Thanksgiving

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Brenda Jackson helps Thanksgiving Day grow far beyond Victory Baptist Church’s annual event.

By Lisa King

Brenda Jackson, known for her decades of representation on the Shelby County Board of Education, is helping ensure that everyone in Shelby County who might not have a Thanksgiving Day meal can find food and company.

She is the guiding spirit behind the community Thanksgiving Day dinner scheduled for Thursday at Stratton Center, and she may have started a new tradition, Rhonda Gillman said.

“Last year is when Brenda Jackson stepped in to help because it was her birthday, and this year, again, we will partner with Brenda and her team of volunteers,” said Gillman, office manager of Victory Baptist Church, which for the past seven years has held a dinner at the church.

“We started out with just carry-outs, and then we went to having a sit-down [dinner] and the full meal,” Gillman said. “We always held it at Victory, but last year, we decided we’d have more space if we went to the Stratton Center.”

And this isn’t just for the homeless members of the community.

“One thing about last year’s dinner, which to me, enlightened the whole meal, was that it’s not only for the homeless, it’s not only for someone down on their luck. It’s also for people who don’t have family, or someplace else to go,” Gillman said. “They don’t have to be alone, they can have fellowship and everyone can be together. She’s [Jackson] brought in this whole new idea, and it’s just wonderful. And we have a lot of widows and single people that come and join in so they don’t have to be alone.”

So last year it was decided that more seating capacity would be needed because of the large crowd that showed up last year.

Gillman said that Jackson’s efforts touched many people in a very personal way, both those coming to eat and those coming to help.

“Last year, they [volunteers] came from every direction,” she said. “She said that this year she has had a lot of calls from people wanting to help, and she even has a group coming to clean up. So she has really turned this into a community effort.”

Jackson, a 25-year member of the school board who attends Clay Street Baptist Church, said she came up with the idea of helping with the dinner last year because she had just lost two close family members, a nephew, Maurice Way, and a brother, Keith Jackson, and she wanted to give back to the community in their memory.

“It was my first Thanksgiving without my nephew Maurice – he died in December – and earlier in the year, my brother, Keith, was murdered,” she said. “Keith loved Thanksgiving. He loved to eat, and Maurice loved to cook.”

On top of that, Jackson said, her birthday fell on Thanksgiving last year, so she put a new twist on her habit of buying her own birthday gift.

“Every year, I buy myself something for my birthday, and last year I used the money that I would have used to buy myself something to do buy things for the dinner instead,” she said.

So she threw herself into what turned out be a quite a project, she said, as the list of people, churches and other groups who stepped up to help her grew.

“So I was asked to do it again this year, and now that people have found out it’s for the community, there are even more people helping, so I’m getting all kinds of support,” she said. “The churches want to help, individuals, groups, people have donated turkeys, and people are wanting to come and serve or make something or bring something. It’s a real community thing.”

Jackson chuckled when asked who was doing the cooking.

“Everyone is making something different,” she said, adding that the menu encompasses everything from sweet potatoes to green beans and everything in between that people are preparing at their homes and bringing to the Stratton Center.

“What am I bringing? Oh, nothing much, just turkey and dinner rolls,” she said, laughing.

Gillman said she and everyone at Victory Baptist are astounded at how the community has rallied around Jackson’s efforts.

“She just has a tremendous force of volunteers, she has several cooks working in their homes, and they’re just about carrying the whole load this year; we’re only responsible for desserts,” she said.

Jackson said she has lined up enough food to feed up to 150 people, and if there any leftovers, people should feel free to take some food home with them.

“They are welcome to do that, I just want everyone to remember what my grandmother used to say,” she said. “Eat what you want, but eat what you take.”

Community Thanksgiving dinner

WHAT: Victory Baptist Church’s traditional dinner for those in need and alone

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday

WHERE: Stratton Community Center, 215 Washington St., Shelbyville