HOLIDAY HELPING HANDS: Savannah organizations and individuals roll up their sleeves to help out those in need

The Pooler Fire Department enjoyed Thanksgiving meals courtesy of the Dewitt Tilton Group. This is the 4th year Dewitt Tilton Group has donated holiday meals to first responders.The Dewitt Tilton Group team personally served up a catered holiday feast from Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ. Firefighters and support staff enjoyed smoked turkey breast, smoked country ham, a choice of seasonal side dishes and of course, pecan pie.

During challenging times, the Savannah community always seems to rise to the occasion to support its neighbors in need. While the last two years have been a challenge for many charities and organizations to fulfill the needs served in previous years, others are stepping up to assist those in need.

The Dewitt Tilton Group supported the community this Thanksgiving, while honoring local heroes at the same time. The firm served a Thanksgiving meal to Pooler firefighters on Nov. 22 at the Pooler Fire Department.

Chris Tilton, co-principal of the construction firm, is happy to continue a tradition his company started four years ago. 

“These are our real hometown heroes who sacrifice so much to keep this great community safe. We’re so happy to be able to show our appreciation for all they do,” Tilton said.

“With this meal, we’re just glad to let them know how much they are appreciated, especially at this time of year when we give thanks as a nation and a community,” Tilton added.

On November 17, St. Leo University Savannah Center, working with Georgia State Representative Carl Gilliard and Savannah Feeds the Hungry, provided drive-through pickup of Thanksgiving meals to local families.

Brian Bailey, Assistant Director of Admissions at the St. Leo Savannah Center, said the idea was his brainchild. 

“Representative Gilliard already feeds a lot of hot meals to the community throughout the year. However, we couldn’t do as much—or anything really—when COVID hit, so we had to adjust our thinking. We shifted to offering pre-packaged meals instead.”

Bailey said they put a call out to the community to send in nominations for families in need. 

“When we made the phone calls letting people know they’d been nominated and selected, you could not only hear the emotion in people’s voices, but you could feel it, too.”

Last year, St. Leo had ten families supported, but this year, Bailey was both pleased and saddened to see the number rise.

“The pandemic has really been a struggle for so many people. While we’re so happy to help out, of course, we hate to see the rise in requests,” he said.

“Community is one of the core values here at St. Leo,” Bailey said. “To partner with someone like Rep. Gilliard who already does so much, as well as Savannah Feeds the Hungry is a blessing and an honor. Additionally,” he said, “St. Leo Savannah Center—I believe—is the only school feeding the community on their campus that I know of.”

“Again, it’s an incredibly gratifying experience and very emotional. Even almost two years into the pandemic, there’s still hardship.”

Bailey said St. Leo Savannah Center plans on continuing its efforts. 

“Anyone can help in any way, shape, form, or fashion. It’s about community and helping each other. It’s an honor.”

America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia has gotten a jump start on the distribution of Thanksgiving meals.

Stephanie Brown, marketing manager for Second Harvest said, “We’re already distributing turkeys to our agency partners. At this point, we’ve given out 5,500 turkeys to 21 counties.”  

A majority of those going to Chatham County residents and families.

“Second Harvest partners with 285 agencies to get the food out to those in need during the holiday,” Brown said. “While we feed kids every day, we are definitely seeing an increase in the need for assistance around holidays.”

Second Harvest and its partners are also putting side dishes together for folks who don’t necessarily need the full Thanksgiving meal, but can still use the help. 

“We’re also doing food drives at local Sam’s Clubs and Piggly Wiggly,” Brown noted.

Brown said Second Harvest donated 25 million pounds of food in 2020 and is on track to distribute 28 million pounds in 2021.

“We always appreciate donations,” Brown said. “One dollar translates into six meals. We can all make a difference. Hunger doesn’t stop after the holidays.”

Savannah native and defensive end for the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, Anthony M. Lanier II, and his nonprofit organization, Undefeated Warrior Foundation, partnering with Grand Lakes Club, hosted his 2nd Turkey and Food Drive on Nov. 20 at the Carver Village Community Center.

The drive-through event allowed families to remain in their cars while a turkey and two bags of groceries were loaded into their vehicles. 

While the Undefeated Warrior Foundation is geared toward youth development and empowerment, Lanier began shifting his focus because of the pandemic to help do his part in providing some relief to families during the holidays.

“Even though we weren’t able to have our annual youth football camp due to COVID, I wanted to find a way to still support the community that has supported me throughout my life,” said the alumni of Jenkins High School.

Tara O’Sullivan, General Manager of Grand Lakes Club, which provided the turkeys, said, “You can see Anthony’s amazing, positive influence on the kids of the community. Anthony couldn’t be here with us to distribute the food because he’s in Canada playing football, but there were so many high school kids who showed up to lend a hand. These were mostly kids who have benefitted from his youth development programs and just love all Anthony does. He targets his mentoring programs to kids from single-parent homes. As a single parent myself, I especially appreciate his efforts.”

O’Sullivan said the event distributed food to 250 local families. “People are just so appreciative,” she said. “Even though there are still tough times, folks were smiling, waving, sharing…loving. It was wonderful!”

On Nov. 20, Tate Law Group and Tate Global Media partnered with St. John Baptist Church – The Mighty Fortress to distribute Thanksgiving meals and sides to 600 families at Memorial Stadium on Skidaway Rd.

Mark Tate, founder of Tate Law Group and an organizer of the event said the event was about more than merely giving away food.

“I don’t know if people know this,” Tate said. “Savannah has a 28% poverty rate with a lot of people—our neighbors—who are in need. There are a lot of people who can’t have the Thanksgiving they deserve. That’s why we have to help.”

Speaking along with his wife, Natalie Hendrix, Tate said the Great Thanksgiving Turkey Drive-Thru Giveaway started last year during the pandemic to help make a positive impact on the community.

“It’s just amazing to see people coming out,” Hendrix said. “There were people from all walks of life. These are difficult times and we have to help each other. Through this giveaway, grandkids can now eat when a family didn’t have money for a turkey or someone was too sick to go to the store.”

“If you do the math,” Tate began, “a typical family Thanksgiving dinner has 10-12 people. The turkeys we give away serve that many, so you’re looking at about 6,000 Thanksgiving meals from our event.”

Tate and Hendrix enjoyed pointing out the three-hour event saw 200 turkeys handed out per hour with it taking one minute per person.

Hendrix shared the story of a military wife who saw an announcement for the event, but wasn’t sure at first. “She was alone during Thanksgiving and not sure she was going to celebrate. Something drew her to come to get in line as if it was meant to be. She decided to share her bounty with other military wives who were on their own, as well. I cried…”

The event received a lot of community support with Mayor Van Johnson handing out food for the entire three hours.

“That’s all our neighbors need sometimes,” said Tate. “To know someone cares. To know someone is there to boost them up and get them going.”

Giving of themselves in such a way is rewarding for both Tate and Hendrix. 

“We can’t thank the church enough for what they’ve done to help us. Doing something like this for the local families in need gives one a sense of renewal and revitalization. You can see how much this means to people. You see it in their faces. Savannah is a great city and our citizens deserve the richest and happiest time,” he added.

Tate and Hendrix offer a challenge to their fellow Savannahians. 

“Please come forward and help out. You can make a difference. We challenge everyone to do what they can to make this community great for everyone.”