RICHMOND, Va. -- The Giving Heart is hitting its stride in this third year of providing a Thanksgiving feast in a pandemic by keeping traditions alive while sharing food and fellowship with more community members than ever before.
Ronnie Carter heads up a team of volunteers running Thanksgiving meals out to a steady stream of cars at the Richmond Convention Center.
They are the front of the house in a new COVID-era hybrid of an 18-year tradition in Richmond.
And in the back of the house, you will find Sandra Antoine from the Giving Heart.
"What I love about this is because they've opened their door, we've expanded our hearts," Antoine said. "But they've opened their doors and invited us into their space."
In fact, hundreds of volunteers will dish out and serve up about 4,000 meals this year all made possible by huge support from sponsors.
"We couldn't do what we were able to do without them," Antoine explained.
It is the largest free holiday meal event in the Richmond region offering delivery services, curbside pickups and sit-down options. Even beyond that, the Giving Heart provided goods and toiletries as well as flu vaccines for in-person visitors.
"Today we noticed there was on increase shots. It was them wanting to get their vaccinations while they were here," Antoine said. "So this operation is one-stop shopping. We wanted them to leave here knowing that we love them enough that we cared about their health as well as feeding their spirit, their mind and their body."
What’s more, the event offers the volunteers and organizers an opportunity to figuratively, be with thousands of people they love this year.
"It is just that spirit of giving... that spirit of cherishing each other — especially during these times," Antoine said. "When things are so hot, we didn't want you to think about where your bill was going to come from. We wanted you to know that we we're here for you. But more importantly, we're figuratively sitting at the table with partaking in that meal."
Some of those meals arrived into the evening hours as volunteers delivered four-course meals to entire communities, including assisted living facilities and housing complexes for the elderly or disabled.
And in the middle of such a big day, the Giving Heart organizers are already thinking ahead about their next project: Valentine's Day bags for seniors.
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