By Lauren Estes
The Cullman Times
GOOD HOPE —
A humble Paul Schwaiger never thought his idea to make a free Thanksgiving dinner available in Good Hope would escalate to 1,500 plates for the community.
The 83-year-old Good Hope resident was the caboose of the food’s assembly line on Wednesday, closing the meal boxes tightly and handing them off with a smile to other volunteers, who then packed the meals into boxes to be delivered to homebound senior citizens and other families. Over 800 plates were picked up in less than an hour after the lunch kicked off, for which Schwaiger said was nearly 600 more plates more than what Good Hope started with five years ago.
“We tried to make a meal for the less-fortunate here in Good Hope and the first time we did it in 2008 we made 250 plates,” Schwaiger said. “It has grown more and more since then. I don’t want to make this about me though; make it about Good Hope.”
Schwaiger said council member Jerry Bartlett has been the ringleader in both getting and keeping everything together for the annual event, but not without a lot of help.
“We’ve had church groups, students, council members, all here volunteering their time. We haven’t had a problem trying to find volunteers.” Bartlett said. “Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have come and helped direct traffic for those going through the drive-through. We had two lunchroom ladies here, Emily Blakenship and Deborah Scott, who volunteered their time and the lunchroom for this event. Donna Lewis with Children’s Nutrition helped us order the food, and really makes it all possible. It’s totally donated. This doesn’t cost anybody anything because of our sponsors.”
Good Hope resident Mary Ann Lee has been volunteering at the free annual Thanksgiving lunch for four of the five years it has been going on.
“It brings everyone together, we have so much to be thankful for,” Lee said. “We weren’t supposed to start until 11:30 a.m. but people were already piling in early and it’s been great. Hopefully we won’t run out of food. We definitely plan to keep doing this in the future.”
Good Hope Mayor Corey Harbison enjoys seeing the unity that comes with the meal as volunteers work diligently to ensure the event carries on.
“We appreciate the school and The Cullman Times for helping us get the word out about the lunch,” Harbison said. “Jerry Bartlett works hard each year on this event and word travels quick about it. I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from the community and we’re thankful to be able to do it and bring everyone together.”
Community member Louisa Sprague said this was her first time to come to the Thanksgiving lunch and shared how appreciative she was for the food since she wasn’t able to partake in the past.
“I think it’s very generous of them to do this for the community,” Sprague said. “I never got to enjoy this type of food when I lived up North, but I get to now. It just means a lot that they do this. It’s very nice of them.”
Good Hope High School senior Chase Starnes said when he gives his time to others, he gets much more in return.
“It feels great to volunteer for these kind of events,” Starnes said. “I enjoy helping people in general.”
Schwaiger said he was happy to be able to help with the lunch again this year because he’s been a little under the weather lately.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to help this year because I’ve been sick, but I’m doing good now,” Schwaiger said. “I’m blessed. I’m above ground, and if you’re above ground, you’re doing all right.”
Grandma’s carwash/Newman’s Cleaners, Pepsi, James R. Smith Trucking, Good Hope Contracting, McGriff Tire, Good Hope Shell, Martha Dunagan, A-1 Painting, Paul Schwaiger, Alabama Brick, Speegle Contracting, Byron and Sherri Hale, Good Hope paintball, Good Hoe Quarterback Club, Living Water Services, Scott’s Excavating.
Lauren Estes can be reached at email@example.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 137.