In November 2019, on the Monday before Thanksgiving, the community came together to share a meal.
A stretch of Hamilton Street in downtown Dalton was closed. Long tables and chairs lined the road as about 1,400 people shared a free meal with friends, strangers and perhaps new friends as they ate an early Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the street. This was the inaugural Gratefull Thanksgiving community meal, and it was a rousing success.
The event was spearheaded by Believe Greater Dalton, a public-private partnership of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and local governments aimed at improving the community, and included scores of volunteers and businesses that donated time and food.
Organizers hoped Gratefull Dalton would become an annual event but in 2020, Believe Greater Dalton decided not to hold Gratefull because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, it held a drive-thru food drive for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, which serves 20 counties including Whitfield and Murray. Allyson Coker, project manager for Believe Greater Dalton, said after looking at the local COVID-19 numbers recently they decided to put Gratefull on hold for another year.
"The whole intent of the event is community building and bringing people together," she said. "'Come as strangers, leave as family' is the tagline.' The idea is to sit next to someone you don't know, at one long table, sharing a meal together. We really, really wanted to see it take place, but in an abundance of caution, we decided to wait one more year."
Grateful Dalton Give Back is Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Burr Performing Arts Park in downtown Dalton.
"This will be another food drive for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank," she said. "Last year, we raised over 3,500 pounds of food. We hope to top that this year. We've extended the event."
People are asked to bring canned goods with easy-open lids as well as shelf-stable, single-serve and family-size macaroni and cheese and pastas, cereal and single-serve breakfast items, peanut butter, bagged dry beans and snack bars.
While we are saddened that the Gratefull Thanksgiving community meal won't happen this year, we are thrilled that a negative is being turned into a positive. We urge all who are able to donate to the food drive. Let's help our neighbors in their time of need, and practice what Thanksgiving is all about.