Carla Brown received word through her grandson’s school that a church establishment would give away premium turkeys to help add to family gatherings this Thanksgiving.

Brown is one of hundreds who picked up a turkey, mashed potatoes, canned beans, boxed stuffing and pies Saturday at one of three Southern Baptist Church locations offering goods to 1,000 of those in need.

“Unfortunately, when you’re going from paycheck to paycheck, turkey is expensive. So this is a great big help to the seven of us,” Brown said. “I also do dialysis at Peak at Caton Manor [the nursing home], and I’m going to be able to bless my eight patients with a homecooked meal with the addition of this food.”

Sharon, left, a volunteer with Southern Baptist Church, gives a community member two free turkeys as part of the church’s annual Thanksgiving giveaway at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore on Saturday. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

In 2015, amid heated protests following Freddie Gray’s death and unrest in Baltimore, David Waters, the founder and CEO of First Home Mortgage, started the turkey giveaways after he made his first donation to Southern Baptist Church. This gesture was spurred by Waters witnessing news reports of a senior center, halfway constructed, being engulfed in flames in East Baltimore.

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During the newscast, Waters heard Bishop Donté Hickman Sr., a minister at Southern Baptist at the time, who just seemed “to be the voice of reason” as people rioted in the streets, he said. The two connected about a day later, and their friendship began.

Hickman explained to Waters that he and a few members of the church were helping put out another fire in West Baltimore when people rushed to tell him the community center and apartments being built across the street from Southern Baptist Church had been set ablaze at 1600 N. Chester St. The church’s only bus, which had been used for the seniors to get prescriptions and groceries, was torched along with the building.

Eight years later, Waters has gifted the church two new 28-passenger buses with access for disabled passengers and has worked with Hickman to put food on the table and gifts under the tree during the holidays every year since. And, just more than a year after the fire, the $16 million, 62-unit senior housing facility was rebuilt.

Hickman said people have forgotten about the hardships residents of the Broadway East community have faced since the night of the fire, especially during the holidays. But collaboration among religious institutions, charitable lenders such as Waters, and Baltimore City officials, “makes for a better ethos and more healthy motion in a community that has undergone so much neglect for years,” Hickman said.

“Everybody saw that fire. Everybody’s heart was touched – Black and white. And Dave was just another person in the ensemble of people who reached out to say, ‘how can we help?’” Hickman added. “It spanned beyond race, faith and political divisions. And he was not the only one. But his support over the years since the fire has sustained without us asking, when everybody else has sort of withered away.”

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This year, Waters gave a total of $28,494.90 for turkeys, $4,700 for sides and $12,000 for pies to fund the food giveaway. Around another $50,000 will be spent on new coats and toys for kids ahead of the Christmas holiday.

Southern Baptist Church gives community members free turkeys, sides and pies for Thanksgiving at Good Shepherd Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Waters said giving in this regard has become recurring as the effort has grown. He and Hickman did not always have 1,000 turkeys to give away. It went from 300 to 500 or more before they were up to 1,000.

“I plan on doing this as long as I have the financial ability to do it ... for the foreseeable future,” Waters said. “And I do it because it’s the old adage. It’s not enough that good men do no evil, you know. You have to be more than just a good guy.”

Lines on Saturday formed outside Southern Baptist in Northeast Baltimore and in another two locations in Park Heights and Harford County. Residents who reserved any number of turkeys they needed were given a blue ticket to get the birds.

Wynsdi Custis, the church’s administrator, has a heart of service, she said. She was happy to help all those who showed but especially in Park Heights because the church is new to the neighborhood at 3459 Park Heights Ave.

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“We just acquired the building in September, and we’re not going to occupy the building until March next year. So our goal now is to show our presence so that we can develop programming and not only be a place of worship but a community resource,” Custis said.

With an hour left to give away the last 100 turkeys, Aaron Bradley, a choir president at Southern Baptist, said there may be turkeys left over, “which is a good problem to have.”

“It’s better to have more than not enough. And if we have some turkeys left over, we’re just going to have to figure out where we’ll put the rest of them,” Bradley said, jokingly.

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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