Full hearts and festive feelings as people pick up to-go Thanksgiving feasts

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Giving Heart Community Thanksgiving Feast returned for 2021 larger than ever before.

Organizers said that they were prepared to give out 4,000 meals on Thursday at the Greater Richmond Convention Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to ham and other sides handed out, this involved approximately 500 turkeys, surpassing the previous record for the feast by about 200.

“We knew we wanted to increase because we saw the need increasing,” The Giving Heart Founding and Executive Director Vicki Neilson said. “But I don’t think it really triggered the fact that we were going to have more need in terms of time to prepare things.”

Neilson said that food started getting delivered last week, and there were three days of preparatory work this week.

“We started a little partnership with three area technical programs: Hermitage High School, Virginia Randolph [Education Center] and Richmond Technical Center,” she said. “They got to experience what it’s like for our typical day here, and they cooked and carved many of our turkeys for us.”

Neilson said The Giving Heart also enlisted the help of those at Fort Lee.

“It’s wonderful to know that I now have these resources for next year, that we can go forward,” she said. “We’ll have a little bit more time to plan it. I would love to see the kids — instead of just turkey, maybe they would do our desserts. That would be a really fun thing.”

The additional resources were in demand this year not only because of the increased meal count, but also because the feast took place in a to-go format, due to COVID-19 concerns. The Giving Heart offered curbside pickup, large-scale walk-in service and delivery for some local senior living facilities.

“The table is bigger,” The Giving Heart Board Member Sandra Antoine said. “Normally, we have the sit-down meals. But imagine every household, every facility that we’re touching today, that we’re interacting with, that we’re providing in Thanksgiving, they’re at our feast. So we’re at more tables today than ever in the history of the organization.”

Although the feast did not happen in its traditional sit-down manner, those in attendance told 8News they were still able to connect with one another while waiting in line for food and clothing.

“This is what Thanksgiving’s about: giving,” Keith Bynum said. “I appreciate it because I got home-cooked food now.”

Originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, Bynum said that he has been in Richmond for a couple weeks for work, and will be staying in a hotel here for at least another month. Having traditional Thanksgiving food and being surrounded by community members reminded him of home.

Meanwhile, Antoine Harris, who grew up in North Chesterfield, said that watching so many people give back was very moving.

“It was almost like, you know, when you go to church and you hear a nice church song, you know, it gives chills to your body when you hear that song. So it’s kind of — that’s the feeling on the inside,” Harris said. “If we could take this day as if it was each day, I mean, it’d be a wonderful world.”

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