Lois Bonner is new to Charlotte and struggling to get by, but she got a good feel for the city Thursday at the Skyland Family Restaurant on South Boulevard.
Owner Jimmy Kakavitsas had promised to give traditional Thanksgiving meals at no charge to all people in need – no proof required – and 47-year-old Bonner was first in line to take him up on the offer.
“There’s no judgment here and that’s a blessing,” Bonner said, walking away with a free take-out meal of turkey, dressing, string beans, corn bread, sweet potatoes and iced tea.
“I’ve been in Charlotte four months and I don’t have a stable place to live. With all the people who don’t have jobs now, a meal like this is a way to still make the day feel special.”
The Skyland’s massive food giveaway – 3,000 meals in all – was one of several city affairs aimed at making the less fortunate feel included in the nation’s Thanksgiving festivities.
Among the others:
• IKEA Charlotte provided free Thanksgiving dinners in its restaurant to clients of Hope Haven, Salvation Army’s Center of Hope and Carolina Refugee Resettlement Agency.
• For the fifth year in a row, John Tighe, CEO of Arrowpoint Capital, and his wife, Kristie, delivered meals prepared by a local country club chef to 30 women and children staying at Charlotte’s battered women’s shelter. Tighe is board chair of United Family Services.
• And the Charlotte Rescue Mission sponsored what is probably the community’s biggest Thanksgiving dinner, with meals for 1,200, including clients of both the Rescue Mission and the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte.
The Rescue Mission effort is also unique because it serves the meal with all the fixings of a fine restaurant, including china, long-stemmed glasses and celebrity maitre d’s from local TV and radio stations.
More than 155 volunteers signed up to help, including some who have made it a family tradition.
Christopher Tassy, 37, said he has been volunteering for four years along with his wife, Julie, and their two children, ages 9 and 10.
The family planned to have its own Thanksgiving gathering at home later in the day, he said.
“It’s easy to get in your comfort zone of staying at home on Thanksgiving, but I see it as a day to serve others and I want my kids to learn that lesson early,” said Tassy, who works for IBM.
In the case of the Skyland Restaurant, the giving is as much a “thank you” to the city as it is a gift for the needy.
Owner Jimmy Kakavitsas said he came here from Greece in 1967 and the Charlotte community helped his restaurant become a success. This is the seventh year he has given away food on Thanksgiving, with help from two dozen other Greek-Americans.
It’s estimated the community has as many as 20,000 Greek-Americans, many of whom launched their careers in the food service business, said Father Theodore Kryritsis, who showed up to help pass out the meals.
He reminded all involved that “we are not isolated islands. We are all part of a great society.”
Then Kryritsis blessed the food and concluded with a wish for those waiting in line: “My beloved friends, may your dreams come true sooner than expected.”