Baltimore's churches and charity organizations will serve more than 30,000 Thanksgiving meals to the homeless and poor beginning today, but officials of the Maryland Food Committee say many will go hungry despite the efforts.
Soup kitchens, church social halls and even a high school campus will convert to dining rooms where free roasted turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie will be served mainly by volunteers. Some of the highlights include:
* More than 900 turkeys cooked for Bea Gaddy by female prison inmates to serve 18,000 under tents at Paul Laurence Dunbar Sr. High School. Ms. Gaddy's mammoth dinner -- nominated for possible inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records -- will be featured live on "CBS This Morning" on Thanksgiving Day.
* Entertainment by clowns and magicians at the Baltimore Convention Center, where Goodwill Industries has hired Service America Inc. to cook 1,600 pounds of turkey to feed more than 2,000 today.
* A four-hour feast for 4,000 at City Temple Church on North Dolphin Street tomorrow.
* A turkey dinner for 450 at Curley's Harbor City Hall in West Baltimore catered by the owner of a local carry-out restaurant.
* A pancake breakfast for 500 Thanksgiving morning at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church on St. Paul Street sponsored by the Midtown Churches Association.
* Bags of food and a message of hope distributed by the Rev. Thaddeus Jones of the Truth Tabernacle Christian Center in West Baltimore.
This year's combination of Thanksgiving feasts for the poor and homeless will be the largest ever offered here because of the high rate of unemployment and the governmental budget cuts that have hurt Maryland families, Ms. Gaddy said yesterday.
"It's sad out here," said Ms. Gaddy, who runs the Patterson Park Emergency Food distribution center in East Baltimore. "You see more children and old people. It's something else."
Ms. Gaddy and others who distribute food and clothing said they have become increasingly concerned as the number of the needy surges. In 1981, Ms. Gaddy started serving a Thanksgiving dinner to 39 people in her neighborhood with $290 she won from a 50-cent lottery ticket. Since then, she has given food to more than 200,000 people through her daily operation, she estimates.
The food distribution in the Baltimore area last month was an increase of 15 percent at soup kitchens and 31 percent at food pantries over last October's figures. This led the Maryland Food Committee, a non-profit anti-hunger organization, to predict that this year's Thanksgiving will fall short of a harvest of plenty.
"It's complex -- there are a lot of reasons," said Linda Eisenberg, executive director of the Maryland Food Committee. "The providers themselves are up against the wall. Every volunteer hour, every dollar and every can of food is critical now."
Mr. Jones, who delivered eight bags of food yesterday in West Baltimore -- each containing enough turkey, bread, vegetables and eggs to feed a family of five -- said he is constantly faced with despair.
"In my travels people have little or no hope," said the 32-year-old minister. "I'm on the streets, and people feel they don't know what tomorrow will bring. When they see people like myself come and want to bless them with a turkey dinner, they know there is still hope in the world."
Mr. Jones' church received 10 turkeys and some other food to donate to poor families in West Baltimore from the Trinity Assembly of God Church in Lutherville.
Among other charitable organizations, Our Daily Bread will serve about 750 people eggs and Canadian bacon at a Thanksgiving day brunch catered by the Shrine of the Little Flower Church.
Because Our Daily Bread serves food every day, a Thanksgiving meal is not special, said Pam Hoffman, coordinator of volunteer services at the soup kitchen located on West Franklin Street.
Paul's Place, a soup kitchen on Washington Boulevard in Southwest Baltimore, will serve its usual two meals a day -- breakfast and lunch. The facility, located in the Episcopal Church of St. Paul the Apostle, expects 300 people at the Thanksgiving lunch offered from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
"Hopefully, we can provide a meal with dignity," said Laird Lorenz, a staff member at Paul's Place. "It's important for people to eat and especially at the end of the month when money runs out."
The pancake breakfast at St. Michael and All Angels Church is donated by Monarch-Baltimore, a food service company, and will be cooked by members of the Optimist Club. Other area churches that are providing food baskets and Thanksgiving dinner include: Christ United Methodist Church, Good Shepherd Baptist Church, St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church and New Metropolitan Baptist Church.
Ms. Gaddy's Thanksgiving dinner is the largest in the city.
It will be served by more than 1,500 volunteers and includes an estimated 80 tons of donated food on 30,000 paper plates. With the distribution of 7,000 bags of food in addition to the meal, Ms. Gaddy estimates that she will feed 25,000 people.
The Mass Transit Administration is donating 300 free bus passes to Ms. Gaddy to distribute to those needing a ride to Dunbar for the dinner, and 250 of those passes will be passed out to residents of the George B. Murphy Homes housing project, she said.
"Our dinner is about fellowship," Ms. Gaddy said. "It's people talking and meeting and sharing ideas like an old-time revival."