COVID-19 pandemic reshapes Richmond tradition: 'There’s just so much need'

Volunteer: 'This community is blessed by this organization. I wanted to give back.'
Posted at 7:00 PM, Nov 26, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- A Richmond Thanksgiving tradition for the past decade-and-a-half continued this year despite the pandemic.

Typically, thousands gathered inside the Richmond Convention Center for feast put on by The Giving Heart. But this year things looked a bit different.

"We’ve all had to transition to this new, this COVID-19 world," said Sandra Antoine, a board member for The Giving Heart.

While in years past, The Giving Heart Thanksgiving Feast has featured a sit-down meal for thousands, this year people made their way through a socially-distanced line inside -- or waited in their cars -- for a takeout only meal.

"A lot of people out here hungry and we sure do appreciate it," attendee Karen White said.

Keith Pope, who was among those in line Thursday, was thankful for the precautions as he considers himself high-risk for the coronavirus.

"I have a heart disease, so I cannot afford to get the COVID and I do everything that I do when I come out — extra careful," he said.

The non-profit’s founder and executive director, Vicki Neilson, said the group was uncertain if they should continue the event in 2020.

"But there’s just so much need in the city and elsewhere and the phone calls you get from people that have that need," Neilson said. "We’ve just been very cognizant of making sure that we do things the right way."

Those inside also received other items like shoes, clothing and toiletries.

Neilson said it was only made possible by volunteers.

"The fact that we had so many volunteers that were willing to come out and be a part of a completely different way, you know, is really amazing," Neilson said.

Among those volunteers were people like Ashley Singleton, who relied on the The Giving Heart over three years ago and knows first hand what it means for people in need.

"I’m just so blessed that they helped me and they’ll help anybody," Singleton said. "So this community is blessed by this organization. I wanted to give back."

The Giving Heart's next event is the Secret Senior Valentine Bags next year. Click here for more information or if you would like to volunteer.



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