- story by Lisa Monti, photos courtesy the Kelly family
Thanksgiving is all about tradition, family, fellowship, and food. The free dinner that the Kelly family lays out every year is a holiday tradition that has been shared by thousands over more than three decades.
This year’s meal on Nov. 23 will the 32nd time the Kelly family and their volunteers have prepared and shared Thanksgiving dinner with the community. The organizers expect anywhere from 900 to 1,100 people to gather at the American Legion in Bay St. Louis for sliced turkey with gravy, stuffing, vegetables and dessert.
This tradition started 32 years ago when the family owned Mr. C’s restaurant on U.S. 90 and decided to serve a free Thanksgiving meal as a way to give back to the community.
Of Sally Kelly’s nine children, the ones who live in South Mississippi help pull the dinner together. Those who live away make donations to support the event. Local merchants and individuals donate food, money and door prizes to round out the event. Everything for the meal is donated.
Two of Sally Kelly’s daughters, Julie Massengill and Nancy Bosarge, usually orchestrate the meal preparation and delivery as well as the music and the cleanup. This year Bosarge is away on work so Massengill is shifting around the tasks to keep the event running smoothly.
Massengill said the family never knows how many people will show up to eat but they’ve never run out of food or been short on helping hands.
Massengill said the meal preparation starts the day before Thanksgiving. “We start preparing the turkey and making other goodies the night before. We get to the hall at 6 a.m.. Everything’s ready by 10 and then the meal deliveries are made. There’s usually a line when we open at 11.”
Diners get special treatment as soon as they come in. “They are greeted by a hostess and seated. A server finds out what they want and they get their food and drink and bring it to the table. They’re treated like family for a sit down meal.” Special touches include linen napkins and table clothes.
This year, as always, the organizers won’t know how many will show up to eat or lend a hand. “We leave it up to God,” Massengill said. “We tell everybody we need volunteers and go with whoever shows up and make it work.”
For more information or to volunteer or donate, contact Julie Massengill at (228) 297-2099.