The scene was exactly what organizers hoped for: Neighbors from the Reid Park and J.T. Williams school communities sat alongside Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police for prayer, food and games during an outdoor Thanksgiving meal celebration under sunny skies Saturday afternoon.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Dream Center, a local outreach ministry that's part of the Los Angeles-based Dream Center Network, organized the meal for about 250 people.
The celebration was part of its ongoing work with both communities. Since February, the dream center has connected with the neighborhoods every Saturday morning through its “Adopt a Block” effort, according to communications director Caroline Arey.
Volunteers and dream staff members help residents every week in some way – such as doing light repair work around their homes, bringing home-baked cookies, or organizing activities for kids, like a kickball tournament.
Charlotte chef and philanthropist Jim Noble, whose uptown King's Kitchen feeds the homeless and provides food-service job training, launched the local dream center affiliate a year and a half ago as an outreach arm of the restaurant, Arey said.
Looking for neighborhoods that needed help and “we can dig our feet into,” they focused on the J.T. Williams neighborhood, off of Statesville Avenue outside of uptown, following a ride along with police. Later, they learned about the Reid Park community off Tyvola Road through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Arey said.
On Saturday, the “tons of volunteers” who showed up to serve the meals included Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart. “The kids were so excited,” Arey said. “He just served and hung out with the kids.”
Food – turkey, cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy – came from Rooster’s in uptown Charlotte, also one of Noble’s restaurants.
Officers and attendees prayed together before sitting in chairs underneath a tent on a vacant lot on Reid Avenue. There was enough room for a catering truck to keep the food hot, and for kids to make sidewalk-chalk drawings and play corn hole and football after the meal.