A local holiday tradition that had stretched for nearly four decades has been canceled.
Eastside Community Center’s free Thanksgiving meal will not be conducted this year at the nonprofit center, which closed Oct. 26 after its executive director and board of directors resigned.
Columbus City Council member Dascal Bunch, who represents the area where the center is located, said the community center is deeply in debt.
Lenore Hollowell, who had worked at the center, sent an email to clients and supporters notifying them that the meal, originally slated for Nov. 21, would not be conducted.
“I am thankful for the time, donations and commitment that you have given to Eastside Community Center and hope that I can call on you again when Eastside reopens,” her message read, in part.
Staff and volunteers served a free meal the Saturday before Thanksgiving for 37 years. The late Roby and America Anderson, Eastside founders, launched the gathering as a simple way to share time with their agency’s clients and local residents.
Some years, such as 2011, more than 1,200 people ate or had meals delivered to them, according to organizers. In more recent years, as deliveries were discontinued, 500 to 600 people ate turkey and trimmings at the center from food donated by local residents and businesses.
Some diners acknowledged they were needy families facing tough times. Others mentioned that they simply were looking for a place to share fellowship.
Tracy Souza, president and CEO of the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, has been working with Bunch and United Way of Bartholomew County President Mark Stewart to bring Eastside’s services back to the neighborhood. Eastside was a United Way agency until a payroll tax mistake from 2011 and 2012 caused the center to lose its certification.
Souza said the next step is for a legal entity to grant someone authority over the center’s affairs, but she was uncertain when that could happen.
Two free local Thanksgiving Day meals will be offered in Columbus as usual this year on Nov. 26.
- Columbus Baptist Church, 4821 U.S. 31 North, is serving and delivering from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
- First Christian Church, 536 Fifth St., is serving and delivering from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.