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Thanksgiving dinner brings more than 400 people in need to Good News at Noon

POSTED: December 6, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Teresa Arreola, right, a volunteer from Gainesville, passes a plate of food to volunteer Samantha Ivey, center, of Gainesville as they prepare for the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner at Good News at Noon Thursday.

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As a warm November sun beamed down Thursday on Gainesville, about 400 homeless men and women stirred from under the city’s bridges, stoops and shelters and flocked to Good News at Noon to gobble down the grandest Thanksgiving feast ever served at the ministry.

Gene Beckstein founded the Good News at Noon homeless shelter and Christian ministry in 1990, and said volunteers served at least 400 homeless people for Thursday’s noontime feast.

"Today’s the most we’ve ever done," Beckstein said. "We had about 160 volunteers. They came from North Carolina, South Carolina and Atlanta. And we don’t advertise or anything."

Volunteers piled turkey, dressing, rice and broccoli, sweet potato souffle, cranberry sauce, squash casserole, green beans, rolls, cake and apple pie onto the plates of anyone who was hungry at the packed shelter on Davis Street. And volunteers offered anyone in need a winter coat and canned goods before they shuffled back out to the streets.

Fifteen years ago on Thanksgiving Day, Lenny Baker and her late husband donated five turkeys and all the fixings to Good News at Noon. After Baker’s husband passed away 11 years ago, she continues to provide the Thanksgiving meal for the shelter. This year she gave 39 turkeys complete with the trimmings — her largest contribution to the shelter’s Thanksgiving dinner to date — to the hungry at Good News at Noon.

Baker said Beckstein, the founder of the shelter who was once homeless himself, inspires others through his good works and faith in God.

Affectionately known as Mr. B, Beckstein started Good News at Noon with his late beloved wife, Margie, serving a few dozen homeless people lunch out of the community center at Melrose Apartments. The after-school haven and feeding program has grown to serve about 150 people every day at the Davis Street location. And a new 30-bed addition was added to the shelter complex this year.

"He never ever ever asks for anything, but his faith is so strong he believes the Lord will provide," Baker said of Beckstein.

Baker said she feels "very very grateful" to be able to serve so many with a warm meal on the holiday of thanks, especially this year when more people than ever showed up at the shelter in need.

"Part of it I think is the economy. A lot of people are out of work," she said. "I know they need it. ... A lot of these people have nowhere else to go."

Allen Buck, 25, is one of those people.

Buck grew up in Lula and lost his job as a land surveyor two years ago. Aside from a few restaurant jobs and an occasional roof over his head, Buck has been sleeping on the streets or in homeless shelters for the past two years.

"I have my own sleeping bag and my own spot," he said. "I’ve been living a lot of places."

His clear blue eyes sparkle with gratitude at the mention of Good News at Noon.

"It’s given me a place to eat every day and given me shelter. It’s helped me spiritually. It’s helped me to stay strong and be a Christian."

Buck, whose parents live in Chicago and Florida, said he’s grateful for everything this Thanksgiving.

"I’m thankful my mother’s still alive. I’m thankful God’s spared my life through some storms. I’m thankful I’m not dead due to drugs. I’m thankful to be here today. I’m thankful for the leaders here, Willie, Thomas and Mr. B. for what they do for this community," he said.

The huge gathering at the shelter Thursday raised his spirits, Buck said. "It’s beautiful. It’s a great blessing, people showing they care. It heals a lot of depression and motivates me to want to do better," he said.

Buck also said he’s glad to see young people show up at the shelter to lend a hand.

A.J. Patterson, a Hall County resident and employee of Iron Stone Bank, said he brought his five children to the shelter Thursday because he’s trying to teach them some values.

"The only difference between the people that are in there and us is luck," Patterson said. "It’s pure luck. I’m the vice president of a bank right now and I’m seeing the downturn and people are hurting all over," he said of the tough economic times.

Patterson’s son Justin Ford, 10, seemed to get the point of his visit to the shelter where he helped set tables for the meal.

"I learned it’s not about yourself. Help others," he said.

Ellen Rogers, 81, has orchestrated the serving of Baker’s donated feast at the shelter for the past 12 years. She also cooks the tasty dressing doled out to patrons.

"I love it. It makes you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile if you’ve just helped one person. It makes you feel like a million dollars," Rogers said. "My motto is don’t give to get, but don’t forget to give."


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