Good News at Noon
What: Organization serves lunch and dinner daily and conducts daily church services
Where: 979 Davis St., Gainesville
More info:770- 503-1366 or www.goodnewsatnoon.org
With the stress of travel and spectacle of parades and super-sales, it can be easy to forget the true spirit of Thanksgiving — giving thanks and recognizing blessings.
But members of the Good News at Noon shelter never forget that simple principle. And their annual Thanksgiving meal epitomizes not only being thankful for what they have but sharing it with others on the last Thursday of November.
“It’s all about giving back,” Good News at Noon shelter manager David Keyrose said. “To see these people come in and give their time or money to prepare this meal for everyone shows that there’s still some godly people out there. It does the heart good to see that.”
Volunteers from across Hall County came together to feed those less fortunate from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the shelter on Davis Street in Gainesville.
Plates were piled high with all the traditional fixings of turkey, ham, green beans, potatoes and pie. Keyrose said the meal is important for many Gainesville residents who would otherwise spend Thanksgiving alone.
After an introductory song and blessing, volunteers delivered warm plates to community members like Tom Lord, a Gainesville native and 24-year veteran.
Lord fought in the Pacific as a Seabee, the construction branch of the Navy during World War II. The 86-year-old returned to Gainesville in the 1970s and lives alone. He said the shelter provides him with a sense of connection with others in a similar situation to him.
“I get to see a lot of friends and people that come around here,” Lord said. “So it’s great to come down here and talk to everyone and get a nice meal.”
José Ortiz, 56, is a Haitian immigrant who was a chef for several years but now works at a poultry plant. After struggling with depression and financial difficulties, he lived at the homeless encampment under the Queen City Bridge and spent five years at the Good News Shelter.
“A lot of us that come here to eat or to stay — people stereotype us,” he said. “But we’re just like everyone else.”
Ortiz has watched families come and go and seen children grow up at the shelter. Although he has no family in Gainesville, he has built relationships with shelter beneficiaries and volunteers. He described Good News as his community.
“The people here, they’re my family,” he said.
About 75 families volunteered to serve residents such as Ortiz and Lord, said Good News at Noon Assistant Director Beth Oropeza. She estimated the shelter would feed at least 100 people throughout the day.
The shelter provided all who attended a bag of canned goods to take with them after the meal.
The meal was donated and cooked by community members such as the Phelps family of Gainesville. Warren and Sandi Phelps and their son, Charles, cooked turkeys and ham and helped serve plates.
“We’re giving up our Thanksgiving to help other people,” Warren said. “It’s so great. A lot of people in this community have come together to make today happen.”
Freddie Brown of Gainesville brought his friend, Jennifer Labiche, up from New Orleans to volunteer. Labiche said she was touched by the generosity and outreach she saw in the Gainesville community and wanted to contribute.
“We’re all part of God’s family no matter where we live,” she said. “It’s helping fellow mankind. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Brown’s mother, Rosemarie, has been volunteering with Good News for the past 10 years. The 77-year-old survived hunger and poverty during World War II and wanted to help others who were struggling.
Good News at Noon is funded by donations and provides meals, clothing, shelter and worship services to community members free of charge.
The shelter, which serves Gainesville and surrounding areas of Hall County, will mark its 30th anniversary in February. This is the first year it has celebrated Thanksgiving without founder Gene Beckstein, or “Mr. B” as he is affectionately known, who died in May at the age of 94.
Shelter director Alejandro Oropeza and his wife, Beth, said their goal is to carry on Beckstein’s legacy and fill the needs of the community.
“We’re doing the best that we know how to do based on Mr. B’s ideas and his dreams,” Alejandro said, via translation from his wife. “This is an important place for people who have a need to be able to come, and it’s a place that is important for the volunteer community.”
Beth said the shelter serves a large number of Hispanic families in the community. For some, this dinner is their first exposure to a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
“Thanksgiving often doesn’t have the same emotional value to the Hispanic community that it does to Americans and it doesn’t have the same traditions,” she said. “This is an opportunity to see the way our culture celebrates a day that is important to us.”
Beth said the dinner is more than just a way for needy people to get a hot meal. It has become a community event where volunteers and shelter residents build relationships.
“We have people from all different backgrounds being able to eat together under one roof and celebrate what the Lord has done,” Beth said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to have white, black, Hispanic and Asian people all under one roof sharing Thanksgiving together.”