This Thanksgiving week, the Westside Future Fund Volunteer Program jumped into action to help individuals and families in our community get the full experience of the holiday by partnering with Hudson Grille to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need. This occasion marks the fourth year of the partnership, this year providing over 1,500 meals with all of the essentials including turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green bean casserole along with dessert and rolls.
The team at Hudson Grille has been distributing Thanksgiving meals to the community for years according to Russ Adams, Director of Operations at Hudson Grille. It’s an integral part of who they are as a business, beginning the program at their inception in 1991 at their former Juniper Street location. It was in 2020 when challenges presented themselves as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that Adams had to rethink their strategy, which led him to approach Raquel Hudson, Director of Programs at Westside Future Fund. It was then that the two organizations birthed the current partnership that has continued ever since, one that Adams views as an amazing opportunity to make a difference.
“For me, doing stuff on Thanksgiving, it’s a time of reflection. We get so busy in our everyday lives and we see in front of us all of the time that there are people in need,” said Adams. “We are sometimes glutinous over the holidays, so when you take the time out to say ‘hey, maybe this one day or this one good deed can make a difference,’ it’s important because it gives you this appreciation for what you do after the fact with your family.”
This year, over 1,500 meals will be distributed over the two days prior to Thanksgiving Day – a significant increase from the 200 meals that were distributed in the first year of the partnership. The growth of the program speaks to the needs of the community that WFF serves, according to Hudson.
“I’m having people calling me months ahead of time asking ‘hey, can I get on the list for this year,” said Hudson. “We come, we pick it up, and we deliver it to the door. It’s a great service to the community. It’s something they don’t normally have access to.”
This year, the WFF Volunteer Corps and volunteers from Hudson Grille are joined by interns from WFF’s and its community partner Integrity Home Solutions internship program. These interns, ranging from ages 11 to 21, are employed by WFF and Integrity thanks to a grant from Georgia Natural Gas as a part of the Mayor of Atlanta’s Year of the Youth program. The program intends to keep youth under the age of 25 engaged, employed, and off of the streets while learning job skills.
“Usually these interns are helping us with our community clean ups. They have all agreed on two Saturdays a month, but they also come in during their off time from school. They made over 175 phone calls to let people know what day their meals would be delivered,” said Hudson. “It was really nice to hear one of the interns say to me at the end of the day ‘I really got to work on my social skills.’ It’s great that they have small learnings from this opportunity, being able to interact with the public and being able to understand the process and how it works.”
For Anthony Slaton, a 17-year-old intern with Integrity Home Solutions and Westside Future Fund, the opportunity to participate in the program has been an incredible experience, one he expects to carry with him for years to come.
“I haven’t been here for that long, I’ve been here for like two months, and I can already say this is an amazing program to work for. These are very great people and very kind people,” said Slaton. “I love helping people. They help me stay focused and attend to my goals. I have really been trying to turn my life around, change from the person I was becoming and the circle I was hanging around. I want to become the greatest potential version of me.”
Not only are the youth of the community engaged in this event, so are the seniors. Linda Adams, a resident of the historic Westside for over 20 years, is participating as a volunteer for the third year in a row as a part of the local Westside Seniors on the Rise group that she founded four years ago. The group aims to support senior residents of the community through social events and essential resources. The holiday season can be especially difficult for some seniors, particularly those that lack family and often find themselves alone.
“They live by themselves and if the family members and friends are not around, they don’t cook and I just try to make sure they have something to eat, especially during the holidays,” said Adams. “Check with your neighbors, check on the people you know may be alone. Stay in touch with the seniors where you live.”
This incredible event is just the first of several that WFF will be participating in to support the community this holiday season. If you or someone you know would like to get involved, please visit https://volunteer.westsidefuturefund.org/.