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How this local caterer feeds 800 less fortunate on Thanksgiving
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Carol J. Leverette checks a pan of macaroni and cheese in the oven Friday, June 15, 2018 at M & M Down Home Catering on Athens Street. The loss of black-owned businesses is a sore that older African-Americans have grown to lament in Gainesville, but a new generation is looking to rekindle this legacy. - photo by Scott Rogers

Martha Randolph, owner of M&M Down Home Catering in Gainesville, certainly knows a thing or two about feeding people.

But the demand for her annual Thanksgiving Day meal this year keeps growing and growing — so much so that it’s beginning to take a village to feed the village.

“We’ll take requests until the day of,” Randolph said. “It has grown every year (since its inception five year ago). We started out just feeding folks (living) under the (Queen City Parkway) bridge.”

In fact, the mission all along has been “to feed the homeless, elderly, and sick and shut-in here in the city of Gainesville,” Randolph said.

But there are a lot of residents living paycheck to paycheck, right on the verge of poverty if their car breaks down or a medical injury pulls them out of work for too long.

“There’s a big need, especially with the elderly because Meals on Wheels don’t serve that day,” Randolph said. “But you don’t have to explain to us what your need is.”

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Martha Randolph, owner of M&M Down Home Cooking in Gainesville (center), along with Rhonda Whelchel (right) and Cornelia Martin (left) look over their preparations list for an annual Thanksgiving Day feeding that will serve an estimated 800 or more local residents.

Already, Randolph and her team have collected about 350 names of people to serve, including those assisted by local social service agencies and homeless missions like the Salvation Army and Good News at Noon.

Randolph said she expects her team to feed between 800 and 900 people this year, delivering meals to churches, community centers and senior homes, for example.

Rhonda Whelchel, who is diligently working alongside Randolph and Cornelia Martin to get the massive undertaking in order, said the annual meal has grown because of “the way we get the word out.”

And that old-school, word-of-mouth messaging typically brings in help from across the Gainesville community.

For example, Mar-Jac frequently donates chickens for the meals; residents from Set Free, a local homeless mission for men, help with cleaning up after all the food is cooked and eaten; and volunteers such as local law enforcement and firefighters pitch in to get meals prepped and delivered.

Randolph said her staff will have five huge grills and smokers working on Thanksgiving, with groups of volunteers also helping to cook, prepare plates and food boxes, and deliver meals.

And that about sums up why Randolph and her team do what they do: it’s all about the value and ethic of serving others.  

“A lot of people want to give back,” Martin said. “And then they pass it down to the kids.”

Of course, as more people step up to assist and more people reach out for assistance, Randolph is hoping everything will come together as well as it has in past years.

“Lots of prayer,” she said. 

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Volunteers prep for last year’s Thanksgiving Day meals provided by M&M Down Home Catering of Gainesville.

M&M Down Home Catering holiday meal

What: 5th annual Thanksgiving Day community feeding

When: Thursday, Nov. 22

Where: Throughout Gainesville

More info: If you or anyone you know is in need of a free Thanksgiving Day meal, call 678-696-5970 or email Meal delivery is restricted to a 10-mile radius from 996 Athens St. in Gainesville. Those outside this radius can still receive a meal but must pick up on their own. For more information, visit


What’s on the menu?

Chicken, dressing and gravy, green beans and pinto beans, mashed potatoes, rolls and dessert


Donations needed:

  • Volunteers and financial contributions – call 678-696-5970 or email
  • Carry-out plastic or paper dining and dessert plates
  • Foil pans, trash bags, charcoal
  • Potatoes, onions, cornmeal, green beans, butter, poultry seasoning
  • Cleaning supplies

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Volunteers prep for last year’s Thanksgiving Day meals provided by M&M Down Home Catering of Gainesville.