By Michael Stewart / Executive Editor
The Meridian Star
By 11 a.m. Sunday, a half dozen people are gathered outside LOVE's Kitchen on 18th Avenue.
Over the next half hour, another 25 show up, some scrambling up the embankment of the nearby Sowashee Creek. Others come from the wooded thickets that dot downtown Meridian.
Two drive up in battered cars. One arrives in a not-so-old truck. Most are homeless; some just down on their luck.
"I came to get something in my gut," says a petite woman who appears older than her 47 years.
Like most of those gathered at the Lauderdale Outreach and Volunteer Effort building, the woman declines to give her name. Meridian resident Bobby Gordon is the exception.
Gordon too is in search of something to eat. He begins to explain how he is also a volunteer cook at LOVE's Kitchen when he is distracted by six buzzards circling the nearby creek bank that provides shelter for some of Meridian's homeless.
"That's not good," Gordon says. "I hope someone isn't dead."
It's a false alarm. The buzzards circle away, continuing their search elsewhere.
A truck pulls up, its bed filled with boxes and a cooler, and the casual conversation among the gathered halts. It's time to eat.
They have come for ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a bag of chips, a pack of cookies and a bottle of water handed out in plastic grocery bags by two members of NorthPark Church.
By 2 p.m., the church will have fed 60 people, says NorthPark member Willie Arledge, who credits his wife Linda for his part in the charity performed this day.
Willie Arledge can't say how many people LOVE's Kitchen feeds for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday each week.
The regulars who come daily for the hot meals provided through the nonprofit organization know though.
"Three hundred," a bearded man wearing an Army jacket says. "That's how many they feed every day. And it's hot meals too."
Most can tell you which agencies provide free food, the times the meals are served and on what days they are open: Feed by Faith, The Salvation Army, and of course, LOVE's Kitchen, are all mentioned.
Some of those present are gaunt; some not. None are obese. They stand in line, intent, quickly grabbing offered food. The mood is jovial. Talk resumes.
One woman says she was a former dietician with a local health care facility, but has been out of work for a year now.
She gets by.
"But, it's been real tough," she says.
A few miles away at the Winn Dixie on Highway 45 North, shoppers are preparing for Thanksgiving, carts filled with turkeys, pies and fixings.
Meridian resident Kimberly Brown picked up a few last-minute items for the potluck Thanksgiving celebration she and her four sisters would have later that evening — a family tradition held early this year to accommodate their schedules.
Brown says the menu includes dressing, ham, chicken spaghetti, macaroni and pies, among other things.
With the economy the way it is, it is tough to be thankful for everything, Brown says, but there are still things to be appreciated.
"Thanksgiving is a time to sit down with family and reflect on those things you can be thankful for," Brown says.
Back at LOVE's Kitchen Gordon too is thankful.
"There are a lot of people in need," Gordon says. "I am just glad there are still programs that provide people something to eat."
Gordon says he knows times are tough and that many of those who used to donate food during the holidays can no longer do so.
"They can't help if they are laid off from work," Gordon says.