Donny Faires has no home. He sleeps anywhere there is no traffic and depends on the Chattanooga Community Kitchen for food. Yet he answers without hesitation when asked for what is he thankful.
He is eagerly anticipating the fourth annual One Table, a citywide Thanksgiving potluck scheduled 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday. People from all walks of life will sit down to eat together at a 200-foot-long table set up in the 200 block of M.L. King Boulevard in front of the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
"It's probably the best meal we get around here all year," says Faires.
Faires is not only thankful for the food; he also appreciates the treatment.
On that day, Faires says, he won't be treated like he's homeless. People will treat him like he's human.
"That means a lot," says Faires, a 54-year-old father of two.
If you go
› What: One Table, Causeway’s free Thanksgiving potluck lunch
› When: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Monday.
› Where: 200 block of East M.L. King Boulevard in front of Bessie Smith Hall.
Sometimes people call him a bum, he says.
Sometimes they shoo him away from downtown stores, even when he has money.
And sometimes people won't let him and a friend, who has no legs, ride the bus because his friend smells bad.
He smells bad because it's hard for him to clean himself because he has no legs, says Faires, who pushes the friend's wheelchair.
His friend even tried to pay people to help him. They took the money but didn't do the job.
Faires wasn't always homeless. Six years ago, he says, he lived in East Ridge with his 95-year-old grandfather, who adopted and raised him. His grandfather once owned several East Ridge properties, including a Popeye's restaurant, but his grandfather died in 2011. Faires says he took care of his grandfather for the last two years of his life, but another family member took the estate.
Faires says he didn't choose to be homeless. It was how he ended up.
But on Monday, he'll walk downtown and not get hassled for his status, he says.
Faires will be among an estimated 1,500 people expected to attend, the largest anticipated crowd since One Table started in 2014.
The meal is for everybody. It's not a missionary project, not a temporary soup kitchen. Everybody eats and celebrates Chattanooga together, says Abby Garrison, executive director of Causeway, the nonprofit that organizes the event.
It's held for citizens from all walks of life to "set aside some differences, if only for an hour or two, and get to know our neighbors better," says Garrison. "We all live here together."
On that day, people with jobs will sit beside people with no housing. And people with no housing will sit with those who head corporations, and everybody talks to each other.
"You don't have to be homeless," says Faires. "As long as you show up and get in line, you can get a plate."
A grand piano sits in the middle of the street and a host of choirs and musicians from throughout the city perform the whole time. The decorated table, 200 feet long, runs down the middle of the street. Restaurants bring big side dishes. Dish T'Pass, a cooking school and catering company, brings the turkey and dressing, and individual volunteers contribute sides.
Joy, a 45-year-old mother and grandmother who doesn't want to give her last name, says she saw a flier about the Thanksgiving potluck on a table at the Community Kitchen and thinks she may attend.
She sat on the ground in grass and moist dirt Wednesday night, leaning against backpacks and a fence near the Chattanooga Community Kitchen. Asked where she sleeps, she responds, "You're looking at the head of my bed tonight."
Yet she says she also has reason to be thankful, not only for the goodwill offered by One Table but for her life.
"God chooses to get us up every morning," she says.
Contact Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 423-757-6431.