The weather outside may have been frightful, but at the 16th annual Anita Ponder & Friends Holiday Feast, the atmosphere inside Molly’s Cafe in Macon was delightful, as hundreds gathered to take advantage of hot meals and free toys, clothes and haircuts the event offered.
Ponder, a former Macon City Council president, usually holds the event at the Douglass Theatre. But a scheduling conflict changed the locale to Molly’s Cafe at the corner of Cherry Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. She said the change was mostly a positive one, and would have had few kinks had not the weather been so cold and rainy for most of Sunday.
“We ended up starting (nearly two hours) early because of the weather,” Ponder said.
Ponder said there were a few logistical kinks Sunday trying to fit the children inside to receive toys. Because of the way Molly’s is configured, it got to be crowded when the children came through. But by the time the toy giveaway started, many of the people had already eaten, so many of the children were able to wait at tables for when their age group was called.
Sandra Bryant, who has volunteered at the event for the past five years, said she preferred it at Molly’s because the kitchen volunteers were able to make the food there and didn’t have to worry about transporting it through the rain.
“It was more efficient,” she said. “We got to serve the people quickly. It would have been more of a hassle if we had to cart the food (across the street), then run back when we ran out of something.”
In the past, those taking the meals usually served themselves cafeteria-style, but this year, a hostess seated people and a volunteer wait staff served the food.
“A lot of these people never get to go to a restaurant, so this was an event for them,” Bryant said.
Cathy Davis, who volunteered for the first time along with her husband, three children, parents and other family, said the family wanted to make a change for the holiday, so they came out to volunteer this year.
“We wanted to do something different in how we celebrate Christmas, so we decided our big gift was to give back,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, the numbers they had. It was a lot more than I expected, especially with the weather.”
Euan Fergusson also was a first-time volunteer at the event -- coming all the way from New Zealand. Fergusson said he was in town visiting family and looking for something to do on Christmas when found out about the feast. He ended up working for a couple of hours in the kitchen.
“It was a little bit of organized chaos,” he said with a chuckle. “People were standing shoulder-to-shoulder. ... We ran about 200 meals (in the late afternoon).”
Charlene Moore, who is on disability and is raising her three grandchildren ages 11, 12 and 14, said she enjoyed this year’s event for the most part, but felt she had more room last year at the Douglass.
“It was a pleasure to come down and get gifts for my grandchildren,” she said.
She noted that while there were a lot of gifts there for kids the ages of her younger grandchildren, there weren’t as many for teenagers. She said her grandson, Terrell, 14, didn’t get anything.
Ponder said that organizers this year made a more concerted effort to get gifts that were more appropriate for teenagers ages 14-16.
“We tried to give the (younger) kids at least two presents, plus a stuffed animal,” she said. “We tried to give the older kids something for their ages, like Usher cologne. We tried to make sure the older kids were taken care of.”
In addition to the gifts, organizers also had drawings for bicycles, scooters and a video game system.
Gwendolyn Moss, 55, took advantage of the clothing giveaway and got excited when she found a hand-knitted cap. She said it was the first time in years she’s been to the event, and went with her sister because her kids are all grown and moved away.
“I didn’t want to stay home alone,” she said.
Moss said things have been difficult since someone stole her 1978 Ford pickup truck three weeks ago from in front of her house. That was her only means of transportation.
She said going to the feast brought back some of the Christmas spirit.
“It’s all about the love; it’s all about the community,” she said. “It’s not about money. (The organizers) reach out to all the economic situations, to people who need something. It’s all about coming together.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.