April and Arnold Edwards sifted through clothes, shoes and blankets Thursday morning at the Georgia World Congress Center.
The couple and their kids are practically homeless, Arnold Edwards said. So the donations — and the meal — were welcome assistance.
“We’re very grateful for it,” he said. “And the food was great.”
The family was among the thousands of needy who flooded into the Hosea Helps’ annual Thanksgiving Dinner in Atlanta.
Started by civil rights activist the Rev. Hosea Williams with 10 volunteers to feed 100 needy Atlantans, the effort has grown to 40,000 volunteers helping more than 50,000 people annually, through meals, medical services, voter registration, haircuts, baths, job placement and other services.
Lauren Williams, Hosea Williams’ granddaughter, said at least 3,000 meals were served at the Georgia World Congress Center on Thursday. Thousands more were delivered to people who could not make the jaunt.
Barbara Emerson, Hosea Williams’ oldest child, said the Thanksgiving meal is part of the Festival of Services. The nonprofit also offers meals and services at Christmas, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Easter.
“It’s a 50-year mission derived from Dr. King’s last speech,” Emerson said of the 1968 “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” address, which talked about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, among other things.
Another of Hosea Williams’ children, Elisabeth Omilami, president and chief executive officer for Hosea Helps, said the nonprofit is looking toward 2020 with a goal of offering services to Atlanta residents while equipping them with tools that will make them more self sufficient.
“I know we’ve got to get to the root of what’s leading people here,” she said. “It takes several layers of digging down into that onion to figure out why a person is in the place they’re in.”
They’re looking at ways to better prepare people for jobs, to stand on their own feet, she said. That includes training for jobs where technology can’t replace a human touch.
She said her father, who died in 2000, had a saying: “I wish that no man would help me.”
“That’s the theory we operate by,” she said. “If there’s not a safety net for those who can’t move ahead … they will become homeless and hopeless, and give up and want society to take care of you.”
But Hosea’s expansion comes with some downsides. The growing pains were clear to April Edwards, who said she felt rushed by volunteers at times on Thursday as her children were picking out donated clothing and shoes.
“I didn’t like the way we were treated at some points,” said Edwards, who also said she is dealing with a cancer diagnosis. “The one thing you want on Thanksgiving Day is kindness and giving thanks.”
There were some bright spots, she said. As she walked off an escalator to end her experience, a volunteer greeted her, wishing her a happy Thanksgiving.
“That made me feel better,” she said.
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