The public is invited to share a Christmas meal and fellowship with neighbors on Monday, Dec. 25.
Many Pine Bluff residents will volunteer their time to host an annual Christmas meal from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Dec. 25, at Pine Bluff High School at 711 W. 11th Ave. The meal is free to recipients and made possible through companies donating food.
Pine Bluff native Gregory Epperson is volunteering his time along with Ryan Watley, James Washington II, Reginald Howard, and others to serve their neighbors. Epperson said Watley started serving the Christmas dinner in 2008 to help people feel part of the community.
“We are trying to make a change in the community,” Epperson said. “Anyone is invited to bring side dishes, mingle and socialize. No one should be left alone at Christmas. The Pine Bluff community made us who we are. We are looking to fellowship with those in the community. Ryan came up with this idea in 2008. I said let’s do it. We have had great people join the train. … As the mayor [Shirley Washington] says, we are one Pine Bluff, stronger together.”
Epperson expects to have enough donated food to feed 500 people. Volunteer organizers will provide transportation so people can reach Pine Bluff High School this year. Epperson can be reached at 870-717-4176 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, Watley at email@example.com, and Washington at jameslwashingtonII@gmail.com. Epperson welcomes people to contact the volunteers via Facebook as well.
“We are looking to have more people this year,” Epperson said. “We are asking people to donate side dishes. We are looking to have a great time. … We will pick up food donations on Christmas Eve if they cannot be there on Christmas Day.”
“We thank everyone for donating in the past and for donating this year,” Epperson said. “We wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
In an earlier interview, Watley said he came up with the idea of serving a Christmas meal and his friends turned it into reality. His friends and he brought food to homeless shelters in past years and then expanded the outreach to the entire community.
The Salvation Army will also be serving needy people in more than one way this Christmas.
Pine Bluff Lt. Kyle Madison said the agency will be serving clients through its Angel Tree program on Friday.
“We will give out food boxes to each Angel Tree recipient family and give presents to children from families in need at our building 501 East 12th Avenue,” Madison said. “One hundred sixty-six families compromising 392 children receive gifts through the Angel Tree program.”
The Salvation Army is also operating an emergency shelter year round. Madison said clients are allowed to sleep at the shelter for three consecutive days, although he works with people who need additional nights with a roof over their head.
“We have more people coming to the shelter when the weather gets worse,” Madison said.