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Area dinners provide more than food
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Stacey Hall (left) is served green beans by Joshua Gravely (right) during a Christmas dinner on Wednesday at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Ridgeway. Also pictured (from left, in the background) are Kionna Mills, who organized the dinner; Ayesha Pasha; Kayla Penn; and (back) the Rev. Kenneth Hairston, the church’s pastor. (Bulletin photos by Mickey Powell)
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Thursday, December 26, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Lots of area residents spent time Wednesday providing meals to people who were alone on Christmas or otherwise might not have had a festive holiday.

Billy Barbour, who helped out during Richard’s Dinner at First Baptist Church on Starling Avenue, delivered hot, hearty meals to those who needed one but could not travel to the church.

The dinner was one of at least two free Christmas feasts — including one organized by a teen — available to Henry County-Martinsville residents.

“It does your heart good” to help friends and neighbors in need, Barbour said. “It’s the best blessing that I could get.”

Barbour has been a volunteer at the annual dinner for 13 years, but his friend, Dot Smith, volunteered for the first time on Wednesday.

“It really touched me to see how people appreciated” the meal, Smith said.

“So many people are out of work who need help in every way,” not just with meals, said Jimmy Sexton, who has volunteered at the dinner for five years.

The dinner first was organized by Stuart Axelrod in 1985. It was named Richard’s Dinner in 2011 in memory of the late Richard Sarver, one of its founders and active participants.

Sarver’s daughter, Whitney Engstrom, and Scott Norman now organize the dinner. Norman emphasized that the event was open to anyone who wanted to eat, regardless of their financial situations.

At least 200 volunteers were on hand Wednesday, Norman estimated. He said he could not determine an exact number because different volunteers were there for varying lengths of time, and they all were busy.

Some volunteers prepared food. Some prepared plates for delivery and to be served to people who stopped by the church’s fellowship hall to eat. Others made deliveries. Most of the meals were delivered, Norman said.

Martinsville City Councilman Danny Turner was one of the deliverers. He said he took meals as far as Sanville and near the Patrick County line.

Norman said that in past years, drivers have taken meals as far as Danville.

“We’ve never refused a call,” he said.

About 350 pounds of turkey and 380 pounds of ham were prepared, along with numerous gallons each of mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and cranberry sauce, according to Norman.

The pace was frenetic. While there were no major problems, Norman said kitchen crews at one point struggled to boil water quickly enough to make additional mashed potatoes that were needed.

The dinner was to start at 10 a.m. However, a crowd was at First Baptist by 9, so volunteers began preparing and serving meals, Norman said.

By noon, more than 1,600 meals were “assembled and distributed,” he said, and volunteers were beginning to eat leftovers. The dinner was winding down, he observed, although it was supposed to end at 2 p.m.

Wes Mills said he has been volunteering at the dinner “off an on” for five or six years. His 11-year-old son, Taylor, was somewhere in the crowd.

“I love to help people,” Mills said, explaining why he volunteers, “and I want to teach my son the importance of giving.”

Over the years, repeat volunteers have become like a family, Norman said.

One of them, Buford Ashby, likes to socialize with people who come to eat as well as those who cook and serve.

“You see people you haven’t seen” since the previous dinner, Ashby said.

Another dinner was held Wednesday at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Ridgeway. It was organized by 15-year-old Kionna Mills, a Martinsville High School (MHS) freshman who earlier this year was crowned the 2013 Miss Virginia American Junior Teen in the Miss Coed Virginia Pageant.

Wanting to do something to help the community, Mills organized the dinner after noticing that a lot of her friends at school receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Her menu consisted of turkey, ham, French onion mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans and a dessert, with either lemonade or coffee.

Mills and her mother, Stephanie, said the meat was donated and some church members made the desserts. Some MHS students helped prepare and serve the meal, they said.

They anticipated serving about 30 families. A small crowd had gathered at the church by 11:30 a.m.

“It’s good to help others,” Mills said, “knowing that some people don’t have food and you can help them.”

She plans to organize more community meals and some canned food drives to help the needy.

Norman said he will continue to help organize Richard’s Dinner “as long as I’m alive.”

Donations are being accepted to defray costs for future holiday meals. The Grace Network is accepting donations for Richard’s Dinner.


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