“They know that you’re doing it from your heart, and that’s what makes it even better.”
–Mary Brown, Moore Square Christmas Day dinner organizer
by Mimi Montgomery
photograph by Jillian Clark
For Mary Brown, the holidays are about giving, not receiving. On Christmas Day, for the ninth year running, she and a large group of friends and volunteers will serve a feast to the homeless and hungry in Moore Square.
The annual event started when Brown, Pam Stocks, Jeff Stocks, Kelly Hollis, and Wil O’Neal decided to serve food to the needy on Thanksgiving. They brought a ham, a turkey, and a few sides to Moore Square; all disappeared quickly. Brown says she’ll never forget the little girl who came for a meal after all the food was gone. Brown took her to a nearby McDonald’s.
That day made an impression, and next year, they moved it to Christmas. A lot of groups already give out food for Thanksgiving, Brown realized, and many places are closed Christmas Day. “A lot of people don’t eat on Christmas,” she says. “I got the idea we had to keep doing this.”
So did the community: “It started getting bigger and bigger, and now it’s just really big,” Brown says. Over 200 people were fed last year, and around 60 volunteers came to help. This year, she’s expecting even more.
“You’ve never seen so many people that are just happy and gracious,” says O’Neal, who is co-owner of Winston’s Grille with Charles Winston Jr., which contributes to the event. “Mary … is a wonderful, wonderful woman.”
Brown is quick to thank Winston’s and the other donors who make it all happen: Harris Teeter, Red Lobster, K&W Cafeteria, and food trucks like Ribs by Art donate food; the restaurants Mandolin and Margaux’s lend their kitchens and coolers to prepare and store food ahead of time.
The buffet stretches across the park, and it’s impressive: turkey, ham, biscuits, mac ’n’ cheese, collards, hot dogs, cake, ice cream, and even a whole pig. People are allowed to take as much as they want, and Brown gives any leftovers to local neighborhoods in need. A tin of sandwiches is left at the park, in case anyone hungry comes by in the evening, and Brown makes sure socks, gloves, and toothbrushes are distributed, too.
“I don’t do this because I have to, it’s because I want to,” says Brown. “There’s just so much love … it’s really good.”
Christmas Day; 12 noon – 3 p.m.; Moore Square, 200 S. Blount St.