Drive-up Thanksgiving event serves 300

NILES — On Thanksgiving Day, the Wortham family helped feed 300 people by 12:45 p.m. The family and volunteers celebrated together as they cleaned up the tables and dishes after the food ran out on Thursday before 1 p.m. arrived.

The Second Annual Feed the Family Thanksgiving Dinner event was scheduled from noon to 3 p.m. on Thursday. As cars arrived, the assembled team worked quickly to serve everyone who arrived. By 1 p.m., they were laughing and smiling behind their face masks, celebrating the realization of how quickly they fed so many people, and the surprise of running out of food so early.

Lawana Wortham, lead organizer for the event, said cars were lined up beginning at 11:30 a.m.

“Last year, we only fed 92 to 93 people,” Wortham said. “This year, I thought, ‘It’s a little bit different. Let’s prepare for 300.’ Last year, we prepared for 250.”

Last year, the family ended up donating the leftovers to the Hope Rescue Mission in South Bend. Due to this year’s need to keep food packaged for safety purposes, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wortham said they did not want to be left with that much food.

The food ran out before the second hour of the event came. The need this year was greater, and the Worthams and volunteers filled it with as much joy as they could, they said.

“We had dressings, ham, turkey, green beans, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, cookies and water,” Wortham said. “And it’s gone.”

The setup for this year’s event was different than its first year, which welcomed those in need of a Thanksgiving meal into the Niles High School cafeteria for a community meal served by the family.

This year, the Worthams, family members and volunteers set up inside the entrance of the school to serve out meals as cars drove up. As a vehicle drove up, a volunteer would find out how many meals were needed by the occupants. The volunteer would radio inside how many meals were needed, and the vehicle received a spot number that it had pulled into. The meals were then served up in to-go boxes, bagged and delivered curbside to be enjoyed at home.

Orders were taken prior to Thanksgiving for seniors who were housebound and in need of plate of food for the holiday. Wortham organized having three cars with a pair of delivery people in each.

“We don’t let people go by themselves,” she said. “We sent four people to the high rise.”

Her church, Bethlehem Church in Niles where her husband, Mark Wortham, is the minister, was also on hand to distribute hats and gloves to those in need of warmth in the coming months.

“They’re gone, too,” Lawana said of the hats and gloves.

The church helped distribute 144 sets of hats and gloves for men, women and children in the community. She said church members approached the vehicles waiting for food and asked if the occupants needed the supplies, and passed them out as needed.

Wortham was grateful for her family and volunteers, indicating her nieces had done much of the cooking.

Last year, Wortham encouraged having more volunteers. This year, many were already a part of the family’s circle through work or church.

“Last year, we had the volunteers and people come in by the hour and serve,” she said. “I’m thinking maybe we will do it this way again.”

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