Haven of Mercy feeds thousands on Thanksgiving

Jonathan Roberts • Updated Nov 29, 2019 at 9:49 AM

As millions of Americans spent time with their families on Thanksgiving, Sandra Ritchie was volunteering at the Haven of Mercy Homeless Shelter, helping to cook Thanksgiving dinner for an estimated 4,000 people. 

“I enjoy interacting with people and meeting people and that sort of thing,” Ritchie said. “I enjoy helping, I just enjoy helping out and making people happy.” 

Ritchie was one of dozens working to prepare a proper Thanksgiving feast for many of Johnson City’s disadvantaged citizens, something Haven of Mercy CEO and Pastor Grant Rockley “very exciting.” 

“It’s a chance for them to give in a very special way,” Rockley said. “It’s an opportunity to give some love, share some love and give thanks.” 

And while space was tight inside the dining hall, spirits were high as many walked away with plates full of turkey, corn, mashed potatoes and desserts among other things. And for Rockley and Ritchie, it’s all in a days work. 

“It’s very gratifying,” Rockley said. “This is one of the two big events we have a year — Christmas and Thanksgiving — and both days we feed over four or five thousand people.

“We get to see friends we’ve made over 30 years coming back and joining us, it’s a very special time and it lets the community know that there are hungry people out there and we’re doing the job to feed them,” Rockley added. 

Working in the fast-paced kitchen, switching from putting things in the oven, cooking, cleaning and helping wherever possible could, if Ritchie was stressed or overloaded, you wouldn’t have been able to tell as she was all smiles. 

“I like to do things for people and making sure people have a good day,” she said. “I don’t know what else to say other than I love doing it.” 

And though Ritchie wasn’t able to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, she was able to spend her day doing something she loved with the people she loved, as her husband was also volunteering at the shelter Thursday. 

Together, they were able to make Thanksgiving a great holiday for some who may have gone hungry without their help — they may have to wait until Saturday to celebrate the holiday, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.