By Doug Norby
Walking into the ballroom at the Center for People in Need’s annual Giving Thanksgiving event can be a little overwhelming. Hundreds of people are waiting to hear their number called so they can go pick out a variety of food, housewares and gifts from the large shopping area.
Sitting on one of the hundreds of chairs in the room, Ali Yusuf has been waiting to hear his number for 30 minutes.
“It kind of feels like the lottery, except I know that I will win eventually,” Yusuf says, laughing.
Yusuf arrived in America from Iraq in 2009, and he didn’t think much of the Thanksgiving holiday, viewing it more as a paid day off than cause for celebration.
His mindset has changed in the past few years, in large part because of services provided by the Center for People in Need.
“You see this (event) and I think, ‘I am thankful,’” Yusuf said. “They are giving my family a meal. There are even toys for children.”
Along with food and vouchers to grocery stores for turkeys, items like diapers, toothpaste and mops and brooms among others are given away by the CFPIN.
CFPIN need has been putting on Giving Thanksgiving for 12 years, serving thousands every year. CFPIN director of operations Deb Dailey thinks of the event as being about more than just charitable giving.
“A lot of times people in low-income situations come to us very hungry, so to be able to provide them with a holiday meal really means a lot to the community,” Dailey says.
Giving Thanksgiving also provides a number of other services to clients. Several information desks are set up in the ballroom, advertising benefit services, including a booth featuring scholarship information from Southeast Community College
There is even a booth set up providing free flu shots, something many of CFPIN’s clients wouldn’t have otherwise received.
“Without this, I never (would’ve gotten) flu shot,” Hang Chiem says while rubbing her arm, shortly after receiving one.
The spirit of giving is important, but Dailey thinks that being able to provide the holiday experience is her favorite part of the event.
“For a lot of people living on a low income, the holiday experience gets set by the wayside,” Dailey said. “Especially for the children, being able to feel like they are part of a family, like they are part of a community, is important. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or Thanksgiving, just being able to provide that holiday experience means a lot to us.”