While most folks are giving thanks for a day off from work, Heather McGuffey and Lisa Parker will be working hard Thursday to give their friends and neighbors reason to be thankful.
McGuffey, owner of Teresa’s Restaurant on Gordon Avenue, and Parker, owner of Lisa’s 5th Street Diner at East Fifth Avenue and Center Street, will open their popular downtown eateries for free meals on Thanksgiving Day, both as a way to help those in need and to show their thanks to the community.
“Our family has been blessed by this restaurant,” McGuffey said. “The free meals are not only for the homeless or those people who may not have a meal. A lot of our regular customers come. It’s our way of saying, ‘Thank you’ back to the community.”
McGuffey, who purchased the restaurant in 2014, has continued a tradition started by Teresa’s namesake and founder Teresa Reno. She said Teresa’s will be open Thursday from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., serving free Thanksgiving feasts to all comers.
With help from some of her employees who volunteer their time and from community volunteers, McGuffey said Teresa’s served “right at 400” meals last Thanksgiving. This year, she’s preparing to serve 500.
Likewise, Parker is expecting a huge response at Lisa’s, which will be open from 11 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.
“Last year we served 354 people,” said Parker, who is providing the Thanksgiving meals for the third time after buying the restaurant in 2010. “The first year we had almost 200.”
Her husband, Larry Parker, said he and his business partner in C&P Construction purchased 28 turkeys and seven hams this year in anticipation of a big turnout.
“We did it for the homeless people the first time,” Larry Parker said. “But there are a lot of people out there who can’t get together with family. We wanted to reach out to those people. They’ll get a warm welcome here.”
Helping the homeless and others with little means was the main reason for starting the free Thanksgiving meals, Lisa Parker said.
“Down here where we’re located, we have a lot of homeless people,” she said. “They would come in and ask for something to eat. People just don’t know the shape some folks are in.”
Both Lisa Parker and McGuffey have been pleasantly surprised by the response from the community to their meal giveaways.
“Before I knew it, we had 60 people here to help serve the meals and others wanting to donate money,” Lisa Parker said. “Last year we had three people who weren’t even from Kentucky to come down and help.”
Lisa’s has received hundreds of dollars in donations, which the Parkers said have been used to buy toys that are given to the Marine Corps League’s Toys for Tots program.
Likewise, McGuffey said Teresa’s is flooded with volunteers Thanksgiving Day. Some serve food, others bring desserts and a few make monetary donations to help with the cost of serving hundreds of free meals.
“Last year, we had 40 or 50 volunteers,” McGuffey said.
One of them, regular Teresa’s customer Larry Hymer, said he will be back again this year.
“We’ve helped the last three or four years,” Hymer said. “My wife picks up plates and I greet the people. They do a beautiful job. A lot of the people who come through really need that food.”
Neither downtown restaurant has needed to promote the Thanksgiving meals. Interest has increased through word of mouth, and it continues to grow.
“We’re supposed to start serving at 10:30, but we’ll open the doors at 10 because people are in the parking lot waiting,” McGuffey said. “Several people show up early.”
Providing the meals is a bit of a hardship for both restaurant owners, who say their families have to wait until the customers are gone before they can have their own Thanksgiving meals.
There’s a simple reason why the restaurant owners and their employees make such a sacrifice, according to longtime Teresa’s employee Keri McGuffey, the owner’s sister-in-law.
“We do it so everybody can get a hot meal that day,” she said.