By Loretta Fulton
“Happy Thanksgiving! Jesus loves you!
Long lines of hungry diners were greeted with well wishes and a blessing Thursday at the sixth annual Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Robert and Amy Graven in their restaurant on South 27th Street, Lucy’s Big Burgers.
Instead of big burgers, hundreds of guests feasted on the traditional Thanksgiving fare, including pies cooked up by women who are part of Missy Denard’s ministry, New Beginnings.
The women, who have been incarcerated, live in homes sponsored by New Beginnings. The owners of Lucy’s, Robert and Amy Graven, employ several of the women.
Robert Graven and friends smoked 60 turkeys for Thursday’s feast. Lucy’s employees helped with the fixings–dressing, green, beans, rolls, gravy, all the traditional dishes. And volunteers with New Beginnings contributed pies.
“This is our deal,” said Randa Russell, a graduate of the New Beginnings program and now a peer recovery coach at Serenity House.
Robert Graven said the inspiration for the dinner came from his wife, Amy. She grew up in a large family that didn’t have much money. In addition to the large family, her brother would bring home friends from the neighborhood to eat with them.
“Her mom made sure to feed those boys, too,” Graven said.
Amy suggested that she and Robert and their family have Thanksgiving together either the week before or after the traditional day. On Thanksgiving Day, they would host a community dinner.
The first year, 175 people showed up to dine on 14 turkeys, Robert Graven said, and 40 volunteers helped. Now, 600-plus diners isn’t unusual, with 60 turkeys and pans and pans of fixings prepared by volunteers.
Graven said 60 percent of the diners who attend can’t afford a meal and the other 40 percent come because they have no family in town and don’t want to eat alone. Many leave donations. Paying for the meal is something the Graven’s never worry about.
“God has recouped 80 percent of our expenses every year,” Graven said.