HOUSTON—Amid the controlled chaos in the kitchen of the George R. Brown Convention Center, as dozens of volunteers scrambled around preparing Houston’s Big Super Feast, we found a hard-working veteran named Areba Phillips.
When the Army called her Sgt. Phillips, she missed more than her share of holiday meals at home due to deployments in lands as distant as Croatia and South Korea. Now she’s back home with her family, but she and her daughter Racquel spent the day before Thanksgiving helping prepare dinners for people they don’t even know.
“I have children,” Areba Phillips said. “And I want them to know what service is.”
Standing next to her, helping slice turkey, was her 21-year-old daughter.
“It’s important to me,” she said. “And it’s something that I feel like should be instilled in everyone, because everyone needs help.”
Volunteers like the Phillips family are the backbone of the massive Thanksgiving feasts traditionally served every year in downtown Houston. This year, two different groups of volunteers working with two different organizations are combining their resources, serving what’s expected to be the largest number of Thanksgiving meals for one event in downtown’s history.
The meal usually served outside City Hall, sponsored by Waste Management, has been moved to the convention center on downtown’s east side, where the City Wide Club of America is holding the 34th Annual Thanksgiving Big Super Feast.
Organizers expect to serve between 25,000 and 30,000 people at the George R. Brown Convention Center. Beyond that, they hope to distribute more than 500,000 pieces of clothing, blankets, jackets and other household items. They’ll also offer free medical screenings, long distance phone service, information on job and education opportunities and even haircuts.
But as families like the Phillips have discovered, volunteers get something in return.
“A lot of families make this a tradition with their families,” said Stephanie Lewis, a spokesperson for the City Wide Club. “They come down and spend the morning with us. And then they go home later and have their holiday celebration.”
On the day before the event, volunteers were still needed. Organizers urged people to sign up on the organization’s website, www.citywideclub.com, and register to work whatever shifts were still open.
The serving line was scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Volunteers planned to continue serving until 4:00 p.m. – or until the food ran out.