Even amid serving meals every weekday all year long, a nonprofit soup kitchen in Conway, like other agencies and shelters, can’t help taking Thanksgiving to the top.
At The Shepherd’s Table, 1412A Gamecock Ave., in the seat of Horry County, Vicki Livesay voiced her enthusiasm for the upcoming holiday and for making its second annual Thanksgiving dinner, served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, so warm that no one has to feel alone.
The kitchen’s director, Livesay said the numbers of people receiving help through its daily mission have doubled from last year, so Thanksgiving, and this frosty spell of weather on several nights this month already, also provides a reminder about rounding up coats, gloves, hats, socks and blankets for the homeless for the winter ahead.
Livesay spoke on Tuesday, after a night of subfreezing temperatures across much of South Carolina and the lower 48 states.
Question | What makes Thanksgiving dinner stand out from all the rest of the dinners on weekdays all year long, besides for the obvious reasons?
Answer | Because we all grow with that sense of tradition for Thanksgiving and family, and we are reaching out to those people who might not have any of that left. They might be lonely, broke, cold, homeless, with families far away, or their families might have forgotten them. …
They might not have family ties any more. This is the one day they can come here and enjoy a family atmosphere. We get all decorated and have special tablecloths. Students at Waccamaw Elementary School decorated cute tabletop centerpieces for us. So it’s like your kitchen at home. It’s not a dining table; it’s a kitchen table. …
We tried it last year, and it was received very well.
Q. | For sharing the credit to put all this together, how does teamwork shine on this occasion?
A. | Our volunteers get an extra special blessing … or maybe they’re alone this year and want to be with other people and not feel the pain of losing a loved one recently. This is a way for them to give back, and enjoy the holiday and not be alone. That seems to be the biggest drawback to Thanksgiving, the family tradition: For some people, that’s not reality. …
We have so many gracious supporters … people who get the dinner ready, people doing everything from setting tables, de-boning chicken to rolling up blankets ready to give out.
Q. | How many people were given a Thanksgiving meal last year?
A. | We had about 92 last year. We seat only 56. … That’s why we’ve extended our hours for this year, going from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Q. | What extra ingredients or foods go into a Thanksgiving dish?
A. | You can’t have all the traditions without cornbread stuffing, but we have to be careful of allergies, and we’re careful with sage, nut toppings and other things. We’re doing fresh cranberries, and people are making pumpkin pies and all kinds of desserts.
We’ll do the boneless turkey breast, so there’s no wishbones or fighting over the dark meat. We bring in some Southern home recipes … a lot of Shepherd’s Table recipes, to add that flavor without adding the extra fat or calories or sugar.
Q. | What drove your heart to make this kindness for the community your everyday vocation?
A. | I have a lost daughter; she has been lost from me for a long time. For years, I kind of wore that like a cross. … My pastor convinced me to find a new direction in life, and that same day, at The Shepherd’s Table, I knocked on the door and was told, “We need a dishwasher.” I went in, and it was finding my peace. It was my passion. It’s because I work with such a great community of volunteers and civic organizations. The Shepherd’s Table gave me back my sense of life.
I knew somebody had fed my daughter; somebody had … helped her. This is my way of stepping up, and when I did it, my life completely turned around. I was asked to be director a year ago, and it’s been a joy every day.
It’s a lot of heartbreak. … You see the need increasing, which is itself a pain. It’s veterans, families, elderly people … who don’t have basic necessities. My mission is to help them as much as I can.
Q. | The collection of coats, gloves, hats, socks and blankets, which all will be handed out to needy folks in December, are there particular sizes or genders in the attire for which the need is highest?
A. | We look for small, 50-by-60-inch blankets; you can buy them anywhere, from Wal-Mart, drugstores, dollar stores, Big Lots. We ask for that size, particularly for that size; it’s small enough to cover you and small enough to roll up for putting in a backpack or duffle bag. For gloves, it’s all sizes, and men’s and women’s hats. Socks for men and women are a big item, too.
We gave about 24 blankets last night, and it’s going to get even colder tonight, so I already have people waiting for blankets today. … If one guy needs this or that, that’s not our place to ask why. We have to put that in God’s hands. I just give the groundwork.
Q. | With more than 60 churches and civic groups assisting The Shepherd’s Table for its purpose, how else can the public help?
A. | This is going to be an ongoing thing … to take any kind of donations, also to make personal hygiene packets, with travel sizes of toothpaste, soap, shampoo — you know like in hotels when you travel. We never think about if we cannot afford a toothbrush; we just think of whether it’s red, yellow, hard or soft brushes.
We also put together traveler packs. There are a lot of the agencies, including ours, that cannot be open on weekends, so on Friday afternoons, we give out these bags of food, with individual containers, not requiring a can opener, and with no need for refrigeration. We give them out to get them through the weekend. …
Our budget is limited, and we receive no federal, state or local funding; it’s all from the donations. When you feed 65 to 70 people a night, that’s a lot of canned fruit, green beans or chicken. But we have gracious donors, including Food Lion … and The Olive Garden.
It’s like running a small business, and you’re hanging on tooth and nail to make it. There’s a mission made, and we’re called to do this, and we’re not going to give up.