Since announcing plans for its 10th annual community Thanksgiving dinner, Meet Me at Court has reportedly received several inquiries about this year's event.
The Sharion Bailey Whitlock Soul Food Community Dinner: Good Food for the Body and Soul is slated for noon on Nov. 4 in the rear parking lot of the TAC House, 1101 N. West Ave.
The dinner is free and open to the public.
As has been the format for the past few years, MMC, The Bailey Family and the Sugar Town Riders will offer a drive-through service for the dinner.
El Dorado Police Chief Kenny Hickman will serve as the grand marshal.
Veronica Bailey, president and CEO of MMC, said questions and comments about the 2023 dinner began to crop up a couple of months ago and after details were released several days ago, more inquiries began pouring in.
Bailey said she wanted to issue a reminder about the process by which dinner plates are distributed to the public.
She reiterated a statement she has made since the dinner began a decade ago in honor of her late sister.
Whitlock passed away following an illness in 2012. She was 51.
Bailey has said Thanksgiving was her sister's favorite holiday and each year, Whitlock prepared a "big ol'" holiday feast and opened her doors to "anyone who wanted to eat."
The same invitation is extended for the SBWSFCD.
The dinner draws scores of people and long lines each year -- which can sometimes result in lengthy waits.
With the onset of the COVID pandemic in 2020, MMC moved the event outdoors at the TAC House and switched from a sit-down dinner to a drive-through service to provide a Thanksgiving meal to the community in honor of Whitlock.
Organizers have asked participants to remain in their vehicles as volunteers serve prepared dinner plates and utensils.
"Please do not get out of your vehicles because last year, we had some to get out and knock on the door (of the TAC House)," Bailey said. "For safety reasons -- we try to keep it safe where the lines will move swiftly."
The line along the Fifth Street/Arkansas Avenue entrance has stretched as far eastward as Barton Library and Hugh Goodwin elementary school.
Bailey encouraged participants to arrive early, noting that even though the event begins at noon, vehicles began lining up at 10 a.m. in 2022.
"I've had people ask me the secret to getting in line and not getting down to (South Arkansas Arts Center) or Hugh Goodwin," she said, with a laugh. "The only thing I can tell you is please try to get there early."
"We have a system where we will have plates ready to serve at starting time -- not getting them ready, but ready to go," added Bailey.
Participants may also enter the TAC House parking lot from North West Avenue to get in line for food service.
Additionally, Bailey said the dinner honors veterans, first responders and educators -- all of whom will be prioritized in the food-service line.
"If they get to the front of the line, they will be served first. If someone is just ahead of our honorees, our honorees will be served first," said Bailey.
This year, the event will include a spiritual component with Dr. Steve Owen -- director of Healing Hearts Counseling, a biblical counseling service that is affiliated with Open Hearts Ministries.
"We will also be having the word of God to minister to the ones in the drive-through who want to listen. He will deliver the word and we will be passing out the 'daily word' (affirmations), so we are going to feed them physically and spiritually," Bailey said.
Bailey and other MMC staff and youth members spent the day Wednesday sorting through canned goods for a donation to the Salvation Army of El Dorado food pantry.
The donation will serve as the monthly mission project for MMC youth. The group is expected to deliver the canned goods to the Salvation Army at 4:30 p.m. today.
Bailey said the group had set a goal of donating 200 canned goods but with donations that have poured in from the community, they have exceeded that amount.
Local residents have delivered non-perishable food items, including "restaurant-sized" canned goods, and donated cash to MMC, said Bailey.
"We are so blessed to be able to do this and the soul food dinner every year. People have blessed us at Meet Me at the Court and we want to pass that blessing on to the community," said Bailey.
For more information, call Bailey at 870-310-0391. Donations made be mailed to Meet Me at the Court, P.O. Box 10594 in El Dorado.