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Once homeless, now he'll feed 2,000

The first time Larry Griffin cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless and the needy, he served nine people at the table at his home in Eastport.

Tomorrow, Mr. Griffin plans to provide a holiday feast for 2,000 at the American Legion Post in the 1700 block of Forest Drive.

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"I always had a dream to help people," said Mr. Griffin, 44. "But I never knew I'd do this."

From 3 p.m. till at least midnight, he and about 50 volunteers will carve turkey, pour gravy and dish out mashed potatoes donated from about 25 Annapolis restaurants for bus loads of people from the Annapolis Housing Authority projects and Hope House, a drug treatment center. This is the third year Mr. Griffin is putting on the dinner at the Legion Post. The first year, about 600 people came. Last year, the crowd grew to 1,300.

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"It's something about Thanksgiving. You give thanks to what happens on that day -- eating dinner, going over things with your family," Mr. Griffin said. "That day brings special feelings to your heart."

He said he schedules his dinner for the Monday before Thanksgiving to avoid competing with other free dinners given Thanksgiving Day.

His dinner is "real popular," said Melvin Colbert, director of resident services with the Annapolis Housing Authority. "He puts on a feast. It's really something to see."

Mr. Griffin said he feels a bond with the homeless because he has been one of them.

For the coldest two months of 1988, he slept in abandoned cars or boats. He was too proud to go to a homeless shelter, and his family, fed up with his drug and alcohol abuse, refused to take him in.

"I don't blame them -- I wouldn't trust myself," Mr. Griffin said.

For 25 years, Mr. Griffin, a high school dropout, lived in a world of drugs and alcohol. He played conga drums in rock bands and worked as a bouncer or oyster shucker in Annapolis restaurants and bars. "I did every drug that was out there in the '60s," Mr. Griffin said. "Back then it was sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. I got into a band and that's where I really learned about drugs."

But his fast life began to come apart when he pawned his drums for drugs in 1984, the same year police arrested him in a Severna Park restaurant with a kilogram of cocaine.

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He spent a month in jail. A year later, he was arrested for trying to sell cocaine to an undercover detective. After two months on the streets in 1988, he called a friend for help.

"I got tired of not having money, not taking baths," he explained. "I wanted to stop being a piece of trash." That June, he spent a week at the detoxification center at North Arundel Hospital and a month at Hope House. Since then, he has cleaned up, returned to his job as an oyster shucker and landed a drumming job with Mama Jama, a band that plays Caribbean music.

He also founded WE CARE, which sponsors the Thanksgiving dinners and food, clothing and toy drives and has begun taking classes to earn his Generally Equivalency Diploma. He said he hopes to become a drug counselor and open his own center for those in trouble.

"This world is crazy. We have to help each other," Mr. Griffin said. "It's not going to get any better. If we start helping each other, it will get better.

Until the day his center opens, Mr. Griffin says, he'll continue to serve Thanksgiving dinners.

"I want to feed as many as I can," he said. "There's not a limit with me. My main thing is to feed the people in my hometown. I hope a day doesn't come when I can't feed someone."


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