Food and smiles were in abundance Saturday when hundreds of homeless individuals and low-income families around Hall County were helped at Latin American Missionary Program Ministries’ community Thanksgiving dinner.
Mary Mauricio, executive director of LAMP Ministries, was in high spirits at the 17th annual event.
“When you love God, you love people, and that’s why we’re here,” she said. “My favorite part of this entire event is that we are able help those that are less fortunate, fulfilling both their physical needs — like nourishing food and warm clothing — as well as their spiritual needs.
“It doesn’t even stop with this event, because many of the volunteers, and myself included, will take several guests who otherwise wouldn’t have anywhere to go to our homes for Thanksgiving dinner.”
According to Mauricio, LAMP Ministries provided meals for 401 people last year and that number was expected to grow this year.
“I don’t know how much longer we can keep this up with the large number of people that come through every year,” she said. “With the help of my daughter, I hope we can continue with this years from now.”
Wendy Franklin, Mauricio’s daughter, has been helping her mother and doing volunteer work all her life.
“If you’ve helped one person, you’ve done your job,” she said. “At the end of the day, that’s all it comes down to: simply helping others.”
Autumn Wood of Athens had previously volunteered at other events, but never with LAMP.
“This is my first time volunteering at this particular event, but it is by far the biggest one I’ve been to,” she said. “Gainesville is a very diverse community, and it’s such an uplifting experience to be able to see people with different backgrounds and life situations come together like this. My kids, Cooper and Rylee, are out here helping too and they’re having a blast.”
Also dubbed “the turkey angel” by several of the other volunteers, Wood helped round up 30 turkeys from a donor in Athens when the scheduled delivery of birds was delayed.
Lyn Cantrell, another volunteer, has been helping out with the annual event for three years.
“I run a food pantry at The River Community Church in Murrayville, but it’s so awesome getting to help feed people on a larger scale,” she said. “For a lot of people that come here, this is their only opportunity to get a proper meal, and it’s a good feeling when you can provide them with something that important.”
Stephen Malloyd, an event volunteer and also a member of Triunfantes De Jesucristo Church in Gainesville where the dinner was held, has a different story.
“I used to be homeless,” said Malloyd. “Ruth Rodriguez, the senior pastor of the church, came to me one day and said ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like or what you wear, come to a service.’ And I did. She, along with Avita, which is a resource for the mentally ill and people who are struggling to get off of drugs and alcohol, have helped me a lot.
“Two years later, I’m living in a one-bedroom apartment thanks to Avita, and now I’m out here because I want to give back to the community that helped me so much.”
Tammye Cook was one of many that received food at the event.
“I’m currently homeless, and this event means the world to me. I didn’t eat at all yesterday, so I’m in heaven right now,” she said. “I came last year, too, and one of the volunteers helped me get a room for a week.”
For more information about LAMP Ministries, how they help the community and how to get involved, visit www.lampga.org.