Volunteers serve Christmas dinner on a Raleigh sidewalk to those in need

Volunteers set up buffet outside City Market, offering everyone a hot, holiday meal plus an article of donated clothing.

rstradling@newsobserver.comDecember 26, 2012 

— Some were attracted by the commotion and the smell of barbecue chicken, while others knew about Mary Brown’s annual Christmas Day dinner at City Market downtown.

Brown and numerous volunteers set up a buffet line on the sidewalk under the market’s overhanging roof at midday. Whoever showed up left with a Styrofoam container crammed with ham, turkey, Brunswick stew, fried chicken and sides, as well as an article of donated clothing.

Some who came were homeless, unsure of where their next meal would come from. Others had a place to stay, but not the trappings of a traditional Christmas or a family to share them with.

“It made me feel good that I could come out and be among people,” said Jean Ellison, 60, of Raleigh, who is disabled and lives alone. “I have some food at home, but this is even better.”

Christopher Converse had spent Christmas Eve at the homeless shelter on Wilmington Street and just happened upon the Christmas feast. He had no special plans for the day.

“I would probably just be wandering,” said Converse, 36, who is also disabled. “I found a loaf of bread. I could be eating that.”

Brown, who runs a housecleaning business, says she arranges for the meal because she considers it’s God’s will to help the less fortunate and make them feel loved.

She started in Moore Square on Thanksgiving five years ago and was surprised how many people came for a meal. When the food ran out, she remembers running over to McDonald’s to get something for a little girl who had come late.

“That stayed in the back of my mind,” Brown said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to keep doing this.’ ”

Many share good will

Brown, who switched to Christmas four years ago, relies on volunteers and donations. The Harris Teeter in Cameron Village provided 15 turkeys, she said, and Margaux’s Restaurant in North Raleigh “donated so much food I can’t tell you.”

Arthur Fields got to his restaurant, Ribs by Art in Raleigh, at 8 a.m. and cooked more than 250 quarter chickens to serve. Fields, who lives in Rolesville, says he also inspired a handful of new volunteers just by telling them about the event. Brown’s gesture of good will is infectious, he said.

“I want to make this a part of my annual tradition on Christmas,” he said.

Those who came for a meal expressed their gratitude with smiles and thanks.

Elvis Lewis, 54, who is homeless and sleeps in stairwells around Moore Square, was blunt about what the food meant to him.

“We ain’t got to beg,” he said. “We ain’t got to go in a store and steal something.”

For Ron Thomas, the buffet was a pleasant surprise.

Thomas, 56, says he came to Raleigh from Las Vegas in the fall and plans to move on in the spring to find work in the Northeast rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy. In the meantime, he says, he works as a day laborer, mostly doing construction, and stays in shelters at night.

“This is excellent,” he said, walking away with dinner. “I’m down to my last. If this wasn’t here, I’d really be struggling to get food.”

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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