For five years, Dustin Nichols cooked meals on Thanksgiving Day and fed whoever came looking for food from his North Columbus home.
This year, the Alabama native is hoping for a broader reach.
On Thanksgiving Day, with the $900 he raised on Facebook, Nichols hopes to deliver 100 to 150 plates to people in need between 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. at Zion Church. His aunt and uncle will help him smoke the turkeys, he said, and he will serve a variety of traditional Thanksgiving food, including ham, mac and cheese, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pies and desserts.
“We are just feeding anybody and everybody,” he said. “They can be rich and not having family or they can be poor and can’t afford it.”
This year’s Thanksgiving, however, bears a different meaning to Nichols, who now considers himself a changed man. As someone with a history of arrests for possession of drugs and weapons, Nichols was released from prison in November 2019 and, shortly after, found faith in God.
That, he said, was a turning point.
“I was 36 years old before I got saved, but it’s never too late,” Nichols said, referring to him joining Zion Church in November 2019. “I started going to church and it really just changed my life.”
Nichols founded his own ministry — Lost and Found Ministry — a month ago, and is now attending ministry school. The name of his ministry, he said, reflects his own experience and aims to tell others that they, too, can be found.
“I’m trying to bring people closer to God every day,” he said.
With God’s guidance, Nichols said he is trying to help more people in need. Aside from the food drive, he said he has been giving speeches at different churches and visiting jailhouses to tell his stories to inmates.
“There’s no feeling like it,” Nichols said of giving to the community. “Sometimes, people can’t help themselves. My ability to provide, and just seeing the tears and joy in some people’s eyes … is just amazing.”
Other area food drives
Like Nichols, many other Golden Triangle residents and groups also will feed those in need throughout the week.
In Columbus, Ward 4 Councilman Pierre Beard will host his second annual Thanksgiving lunch pickup at the Boys and Girls Club between noon and 2 p.m. Tuesday. Volunteers from the Boys and Girls Club, Golden Triangle Early College High School, Columbus Air Force Base, Chocolate Roses Social Club and Good Deeds, as well as Stephanie Jones — wife to Ward 5 Councilman Stephen Jones — helped with the operations, he said.
Beard said he and his wife will cook and serve 500 to 700 plates for anyone who comes looking. The menu includes turkeys, green beans, corn, strawberry and chocolate cakes and sweet potato pies, he said.
“Just come get a plate,” Beard said.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s service will be drive-through only, Beard said, and meals will be picked up from the side door without anyone leaving their cars. He and some volunteers will also deliver meals to the doors of some senior citizens.
Columbus salonist Courtney Harris also will host a Thanksgiving lunch from her own salon, IamCourtney on Fourth Avenue North. On Thanksgiving, she said she will hand out 150 sack lunches, including turkey sandwiches, chips, pecan pies and water.
Harris said she wants to serve the meals on Thanksgiving Day, hoping those in need can feel cared for on the occasion.
“Sometimes there are some individuals that don’t have family to eat with or pray with as well as give thanks,” she said. “I felt there was a need to support those that don’t have family and let them know that someone is thinking about them and we care on that particular day.”
Starkville Strong, a COVID-19 relief group helping local businesses and residents, will also host a Thanksgiving lunch pickup and delivery at the J.L. King Center on Wednesday, said group administrator Brandi Herrington.
The event called for donations of dishes in a potluck style, she said, and within four days, she had every item accounted for. People will drop off those dishes at 10 a.m. Wednesday, she said, and the drive-through pickup starts at 11:30 a.m, where drivers can wait in the parking lot for their food. The group will also deliver meals to those who cannot show up.
Some members suggested the cancellation of the event, Herrington said, but she still wanted to make it happen safely.
“Even if it’s not literally holding hands, we are reaching out a hand,” she said. “Every time that Starkville Strong can … facilitate it, I feel like we are bringing such positivity and momentum of hope to this area.”
Yue Stella Yu was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.