Community Thanksgiving Meal has a new venue, expands to serve more

Posted November 22, 2017 at 5:39 pm

It’s that time of year again and with the short work week for most people and with the latter part of this week ending with turkey and shopping, it’s surely a sign that Thanksgiving is here.

For the past six years, people in Clinton County have had a lot to be thankful for, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Melissa Tallent, along with daughter Kiley Hoppe, and her founding of the H.A.R.K. Foundation (Helping At Risk Kids), has opened up doors this year for the Community Thanksgiving meal to expand its reach.

In the years before, Tallent and Hoppe worked out of the kitchen at the high school along with several hundred other volunteers in order to put out more than 1,800 meals.

“Already I have 1,300 deliveries and I expect more will come in, so if you add that number with the number of those who come in to eat, then I think we will have more,” Tallent said. “I’m preparing to send 1,500 boxed meals for delivery and there will be at least 400 hot meals.”

This year, the venue has changed along with the amount of people the H.A.R.K. Foundation will reach.

Overall, the Community Thanksgiving Meal will reach Overton County, Tennessee, Pickett County, Tennessee, and Albany, Kentucky.

In total, more than 5,500 meals will be prepared this year with the bulk of the meals prepared and cooked in Overton County.

“We are going to prepare all the meals at Livingston Academy High School,” Tallent said. “We are partnering with a rental catering facility out of Knoxville, Tennessee and they are bringing five additional convection ovens and warmers. We should have the capability of cooking with eight different ovens where as we only had two here.”

Tallent said one partner working with the H.A.R.K. Foundation this year is the IWC Food Group out of Cookeville, Tennessee.

Tallent said all of the food will be loaded on to semi-trucks and delivered to Livingston Academy. All of the turkeys will be thawed and in disposable pans.

All the turkeys this year are de-boned and Tallent estimated there will be 7,500 pounds of turkey meat cooked for Thursday.

“We are still making greenbeans, stuffing and mashed potatoes, rolls and homemade desserts,” Tallent said. “Our numbers have increased and our area has increased.”

In Clinton County, the meals will be served at Clear Fork Baptist Church.

The idea to branch out came from one of her sponsors.

“Robert Fitzgerald has been one of our biggest supporters of the Thanksgiving Meal in Clinton County. I now work for Robert, so he said he would like to expand it to include the area where the Fitzgerald family of companies operate,” Tallent said. “We met with the leaders in each county and proposed it to them to see how they felt about it. They jumped on board about it and we are super excited about it.”

The Fitzgerald family of companies is comprised of Fitzgerald Collision and Repair, Fitzgerald Glider Kits and Fitzgerald Peterbilt.

When Tallent started this project with a small group of seniors five years ago, she never dreamed it would be this big after such a short time.

“We feel like we are so blessed. It was something that was pressed upon our hearts and it was something we did based on blind faith and a feeling that this is what God wanted us to do. I feel like He has blessed us by moving us from 400 meals our first year to now we are projected to do about 5,500 meals this year.”

Not only has the area for the Community Thanksgiving Meal expanded to three counties this year, but Tallent said she has gotten Facebook messages from other towns wanting to know if they could receive help on how to put on a meal of this magnitude in their town.

“What a blessing this has been,” Tallent said. “What if this idea spread to the entire region?”

Even though a lot of people volunteer their time every year, Tallent said the more volunteers they have the better it will go. Some of the students who were a part of the very first Community Thanksgiving Meal are still signed up to help six years later.

“The kids who started with us five years ago, the majority of them are still signed up with this program,” Tallent said. “I’m actually pulling some of them to be the leaders and to run Pickett and Overton Counties with the distribution of the to-go meals.”

Tallent said there are roughly 40-50 students from Clinton County who will be participating in this year’s Community Thanksgiving Meal.

“Several people have called who have worked in the past and they are going to be delivering,” Tallent said.

After all these years of putting on this event, Tallent said she still gets nervous about pulling it off every year.

“I’m nervous about the fact that I’m worried if someone needs a meal they won’t get it,” Tallent said. “It breaks my heart if we mess up and don’t get a meal to someone.”

Clinton County will receive the food from the trucks around 9:45 a.m. Thursday morning.

“We will serve meals to anyone who wants one around 10 a.m.,” Tallent said. “Since it’s new and we have expanded, I hope those times are exactly right, but I hope people will have patience with us. I want the people in Clinton County to know they are first and foremost in my heart, and we are blessed to share the love and food with other people.”

Tallent said before she officially went forward with expanding the area and the amount of people being served on Thanksgiving, she met with her students and asked them how they felt about up-sizing the event.

“I didn’t want anyone to think we were forgetting about this and moving on,” Tallent said. “Their eyes lit up and they were excited about it. This is really what we wanted it to do. Seeing them excited about this kind of gave me the peace I needed to know I was doing the right thing.”