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Hosea Helps finds a new way to continue 50-year Thanksgiving meal tradition amid COVID-19 pandemic

The annual event had to make a few changes due to the pandemic.

ATLANTA — Hosea Feed the Hungry and Homeless, a 50-year tradition started by the late Civil Rights leader Hosea Williams, got a makeover on Thanksgiving due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hosea Helps, Inc. staff said they handed out around 5,000 meals in a drive-thru and walkup style event.

Usually, the event is held inside the Georgia World Congress Center. However, thousands still lined up to receive boxes and bags full of food and sanitization kits. 

"For us, people on the street, coronavirus … there's people out here struggling," former volunteer turned recipient Orien Darrishaw said. "We are out here on our last legs."

Hosea Helps CEO Elisabeth Omilami said the need for grocery and rental assistance has gone up 300% in the last year, while donations have gone down over 40%. Omilami, who is self-quarantining, said this year would be unpredictable due to the spread and surge in coronavirus cases statewide. She likened the difficulty of holding a food drive during a pandemic to responding to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

"Because of the isolation, the lack of ability to even communicate what's available has been extremely difficult for us," Omilami said. "This is not like anything I have ever seen."

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"You're seeing people that just need to see a smiling face," Omilami said in reference to the recipients of the program. 

Democratic Senate candidates John Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock stopped by to speak and volunteer at the event. 

Omilami said staff will look at the turnout and success of Thanksgiving Day's food drive to determine how to proceed with plans for feeding the hungry during the Christmas season.