Volunteers began their Christmas morning early preparing 700 pounds of turkey to serve to those in need. Anna Freiberg, owner of Bender’s Tavern, is continuing a tradition started by her parents in the early 1980s to serve a free Christmas meal. The event typically draws more than 3,000 people. Greensboro Urban Ministry usually helps feed the homeless in the area every day. But the nonprofit closes twice a year — Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Without a place for people to get food on those holidays, the Freibergs decided they would take on that task.
“We pick up the slack for them,” Anna Freiberg said. “Otherwise, people would have nowhere to go and nowhere to eat.”
People began arriving at Bender’s Tavern about 10:30 a.m. Several people said they didn’t know Urban Ministry was closed until they started walking toward the building on West Lee Street.
Then they learned about a shuttle service taking people to Bender’s Tavern, which is on West Market Street. People piled off the shuttle and into the restaurant Thursday. Once inside they dined on a Christmas meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans and rolls.
“It’s nice, delicious and nutritious,” Rose Gilyard said.
She sat at a long table surrounded by other guests.
“It’s a meal and community with other people,” Gilyard said. “This is my first year and I’m loving it.”
Not only did volunteers serve food Thursday, they also packed up clothes, toys and toiletries that community members dropped off at the restaurant this week to be given to struggling families this Christmas.
Bender’s Tavern also delivers the Christmas meals to people who are homebound. After volunteers got behind in deliveries, police officers offered to help.
Kelly Owen, 30, a volunteer at the event, watched Thursday as officers from the Greensboro Police Department loaded to-go boxes, toys and toiletries into the back of their cars.
“They volunteered to deliver food to the parts of town they’re serving today,” she said.
Inside the restaurant children walked around with toys and balloon animals made by a magician.
“The magician is funny,” said Betty Patterson, 65, as she ate her meal. “I look forward to this every year.”
Children grinned ear-to-ear at gifts the volunteers gave them from community donations.
“Look at the smiles on these kids’ faces,” said Andy Marchi, 28, who volunteered at the event. “You work all night for this.”
Marchi began volunteering at 2 a.m., helping carve turkeys and later worked greeting guests. Ashley Hailey and her family walked past Marchi.
“I heard about (the meal) from the kids’ school,” Hailey said. “It’s something to do as a family. I’m very appreciative.”
Freiberg said she wanted to make sure students were fed. She knows many go without food during the winter break.
“It’s better to always give than receive,” she said. “It’s better to do good for the community.”
She said her mother always extended kindness to others and her dad always rooted for the underdog. That’s probably why they created the holiday meal, Freiberg said. And Freiberg’s guests appreciate it.
“It’s nice when a business takes the time to remember the smaller people from other walks of life,” Gilyard said. “I think it’s wonderful of them.”