COLUMBIA - Stacked plates and plenty of smiles packed the Columbia Senior Center Thursday afternoon.

This year marked the 24th annual Everybody Eats community lunch. Powerhouse Community Development Corporation (PCDC) hosted the event this year.

"We were anticipating between 1,100 and 1,200 people, and we have not been disappointed," PCDC CEO Charles Stephenson said. "This morning, we delivered over 400 to 500 meals."

Almeta Crayton, a former Columbia City council member, founded and ran the event until her death in 2013. Kentrell Minton took the reigns until his passing last year. Stephenson was a close friend to Minton.

"It was my honor and my privilege this year, to ensure that this great legacy continues," Stephenson said. "He had a heart just as big as the world."

Volunteer Randy Gay has been a part of Everybody Eats for more than two decades, and knew Crayton personally.

"She had the biggest heart of anybody I've ever met," Gay said. "She had a very deep heart for the hungry in central Missouri."

Over the years, Gay has watched the event grow and evolve, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no sit-down lunch in 2020.

"It was so different last year with COVID," Gay said. "This is so neat to have everybody back in person."

Columbia resident Michael Baker was one of many who came for a hot meal. He said his father left him in 2012 and he battled homelessness for a few years. He said being a part of this community is special. 

"Seeing people here kind of gives you a little bit hope," Baker said. "It's just the small things that count."

PCDC received some of the food it served through donations, including the Rotary Club of Columbia, which hosted its third annual Turkey Fry this Thanksgiving.

"We're going to fry 355 turkeys," Josh Lehman, co-chair of the Rotary's fundraising committee, told KOMU Thanksgiving morning. "We're a little over 110 donated turkeys this year."

Each year, the Rotary has provided more and more turkeys to the community. In 2019, it fried 170 turkeys, and in 2020, it fried 240. Lehman says giving to the community is what the organization is all about.

"It's really important for us as a local Rotary group to partner with local foundations and to really do our outreach and help out the local philanthropy," Lehman said.

Volunteers at both events worked all week to pull them off, something Gay believes reflects the nature of the mid-Missouri community.

"The true spirit of Columbia is that there is great things that happen behind the scene constantly," Gay said.

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