RICHMOND, Va. -- The Giving Heart served more than 3,400 people during its 16th annual Community Thanksgiving Feast at the Richmond Convention Center Thursday. That is roughly 1,400 more people than the group normally serves, according to the non-profit’s founder and executive director Vicki Neilson.
While years past featured ornately decorated tables packed with attendees enjoying a meal together, this year offered only take out meals.
“We’ve just been very cognizant of making sure that we do things the right way,” Neilson said. “Because of the pandemic, we're sort of doing three kind of things. We have the access for people to walk in and, if they choose to walk in, there's other items that they get to pick up and they can get flu shots while they're in here. We also have curbside service this year. We have three times where people could go on and sign up and say how many meals they wanted. And then they come on through the front area. Then we have an additional… large groups that have put in orders and they'll be coming into the loading dock.”
Neilson said in years past they had fed up to 2,100 people, but prior to the start of the event they had already received over 2,400 orders for the curbside option. She said they had ordered enough food to feed up to 3,000 people.
Those who opted for the walk-in option had to wear masks and snaked their way through a social-distanced line, gathering their meals and other items (like shoes, clothes, and toiletries).
“We’ve all had to transition to this new, this COVID-19 world,” said The Giving Heart board member Sandra Antoine of the changes. “I think we just try to meet the needs, but to also we did everything the right way to protect our citizens.”
Among those attendees was Keith Pope, who said he was appreciative of the safety precautions in place.
“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,” said Pope. “It is really wonderful and they have everything set up very nice.”
Neilson said that what they accomplished would not have been possible without donations and 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,” said Neilson. “I think it’s really a testament to how people are in our community.”
Neilson said if anyone would like to help out the non-profit, its next seasonal event will be “Secret Senior Valentine Bags.” Click here for more information or if you would like to volunteer.