It was Tiffany Bailey’s first Thanksgiving without her son Terrell, who was born just a few days after the holiday 24 years ago.
Bailey said she and her family chose to volunteer with other members from Village of Faith church this Thanksgiving as a faith-informed act of service and to honor the memory of her son, who died in June.
“We always called him our Thanksgiving baby,” Bailey said while helping out Thursday at the Giving Heart Community Thanksgiving Feast at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
“That was a life-changing experience for us,” said Bailey, whose mother also died this year. “Terrell was kindhearted. He was very giving. His birthday was Tuesday. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the day, but I prayed and asked God for strength — that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“If I would have asked him to do this today, he definitely would have done it because that’s the kind of person he was,” she added.
As part of the 14th annual feast hosted by The Giving Heart nonprofit, volunteers serve Thanksgiving meals and dine with a few thousand guests each year.
The turkeys and other Thanksgiving fare, as well as toiletries, clothing and other items people can pick up at the event, are donated through various charities, organizations and individuals.
“It’s an open invitation to everybody. It doesn’t matter who you are,” said Vicki Neilson, executive director of The Giving Heart. “We come together for food and fellowship at the table.”
About midway through Thursday’s event, Neilson said organizers had counted about 2,000 guests.
Tim Pulley, who is recovering from alcoholism and living at the Healing Place shelter, was in line to get a haircut toward the end of Thursday’s event, but he gave up his spot after seeing a young child waiting in line behind him.
“I’d rather have the kids go in front of me even if I was first in line, because they’ve got to go back to school,” he said.
Pulley, who said he has been struggling with homelessness for the better part of three decades, said Thursday was his second time attending the annual Thanksgiving event.
He said it seems to draw many of the same people he sees on a regular basis, but that the feast provides an opportunity for everyone to interact with others in the community who they might otherwise never see.
“I really think it helps bring this city together,” he said. “It’s come a long way from when I was growing up.”
Bailey said she wanted to volunteer this Thanksgiving to set an example for her youngest daughter, who is 14.
“We celebrate Thanksgiving at home every year. Some people don’t have that opportunity. I told her you may sit with a student or someone that is homeless,” she said. “I wanted to show her that we have to get out into the community and help others.”
Kabir Sodhi said his family has been volunteering at the event for about 10 years.
He said he initially started volunteering as a youth ambassador at the event, taking food orders from various tables, but has graduated to table host, which allows him to dine with guests and help guide them to other services that are available that day.
“With our family, there’s always at least a couple of us that come,” he said. “It’s basically about just being with other members of your community in a place where we can serve each other and relax.”
Sodhi said he isn’t sure how his family first started volunteering for the event, but that it’s become a Thanksgiving tradition for them.
“Sometimes, you’ll see people you hosted at different tables before. So you start to become familiar with the guests,” said his cousin, Cheena Singh, explaining that the annual experience helps to build a sense of community for them.
“Richmond is our hometown,” Singh said.