For those who may have lost their jobs, or who are trapped in poverty or homelessness, it may be far easier to focus on what is lacking than it is to give thanks.
But for 25 years, Wagram’s Delores Alston has provided a Thanksgiving meal to those who may have lost sight of the holiday’s true purpose.
“Some people may be ashamed to come because maybe their shoes aren’t good, but I say I’ll meet you at the door and eat with you, and I make them welcome,” Alston said. “The word got out that you can come and Delores is not going to shame you.”
Alston will serve a free dinner of ham, turkey, and every side imaginable from 12:30-5 p.m. on Nov. 22 at the Oak Hill Community Center in Wagram. Alston cooks for a crowd of 500, and those of all color, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic status are welcome to join in the meal. Carryout plates will be available beginning at 3 p.m.
Her 25 years of dinners earned Alston the title of the Scotland County NAACP Woman of the Year for 2012. In recent years, diners have numbered about 350 in addition to those who come for a takeout plate. Each year brings its share of newcomers as well.
“For the last 25 years, there have always been 50 new people, maybe from Fayetteville,” said Alston. “Once they find out that you don’t have to dress up, they’ll come. I have people from everywhere, and they know that they don’t have to have anything. I tell them to leave their pocketbooks in the car, you don’t have to have any money to come here.”
Alston’s charitable spirit was formed when she was a girl, stricken by the plight of the rural workers who farmed with her father. She opted to pick cotton during her school holidays rather than persuading them to spend their last pennies on sodas and cakes.
“Even though I’m an only child, I’ve been what you call dirt poor,” she said. “I always said, when I got grown, I was going to have a pretty yard, a pretty house, and I wasn’t going to dig in the dirt. I always said I was going to feed some people, I’m going to feed people who are hungry.”
Thanksgiving turkey did not become a fixture for Alston until she first tried one while attending college. In 1988, she started her own Thanksgiving tradition by driving her red truck to deliver plates of food to elderly acquaintances.
“I retired from the Department of Corrections as a unit manager,” said Alston. “I wasn’t satisfied with that, so I took up nursing so I could be a CNA and go around and do something. I’m still not satisfied unless I’m helping somebody.”
Monetary and food donations are requested for this year’s Thanksgiving, especially of turkeys and hams, but Alston says that the dinner will happen regardless of donations received. Other needed items include yams, cranberry sauce, sugar, and stuffing.
To donate items or volunteer to serve at the dinner, contact Alston at 369-2577. Monetary donations may be sent to her at P.O. Box 237, Wagram, NC, 28396.
The food is cooked entirely by Alston and her mother, Malinda Gibson. Many of the vegetables served are grown on the land surrounding Alston’s home, including collards that she grows for the dinner and to give to passersby.
“They’ll ask me how I cook my collards - I don’t use fatback, but they always say the collards are good,” Alston said. “Years ago my mama used to put them in a pot and boil them with a ham hock, but now you steam them with oil and some seasoning. And nobody makes my dressing but me.”