BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
PETERSBURG — Radio personality Princess Denise Wright of Matters of the Heart Radio pulled off another successful turkey giveaway. For 11 years, her non-profit organization has made sure families do not go hungry during the Thanksgiving holidays.
Unfortunately, going hungry is something Wright knows all too well. As a single mom struggling to raise three children in the 1980s, there were times when the only thing in the refrigerator was water.
One holiday season, her name was entered into a drawing at the church she attended, New Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist, and she was one of the people who received a holiday gift basket filled with a turkey and all the trimmings.
That act of kindness stuck with her, and Wright vowed whenever she was financially able, she would give back to the community.
In 2008, she started giving away turkeys with a gift basket that included pantry staples. With about 60 people, she was able to hold the event at the church she attends, Glad Tidings Assembly of God. Each year the giveaway grew larger and larger until she could no longer afford to give away food baskets with the turkeys.
Wright eventually moved the event to Pinellas Technical College where this year more than 500 people took home turkeys, and more than 1,000 articles of clothing were given away by the clothing ministry at Glad Tidings.
“It has been my vision that God has led me for the last 11 years to bless these people,” Wright said about the Nov. 10th event.
And don’t think you can just stop by and pick up a turkey and go, Wright makes sure there’s an religious service that goes along with the free meal.
“We didn’t want it to be a drive-by-come-pick-up-your-turkey-and-leave,” she said. “It takes too much time and too much work.”
Wright learned that many of the attendees hadn’t stepped foot in a church in years, so she decided to set an hour aside and dedicate it to God.
“I want to minister to their heart and soul, pray with them and maybe they can leave out of here better than the way they came in,” Wright averred.
This year’s service included anointed praise and worship by Minister of Music Derrick Isham, For God’s Glory Dance Ministry, praise dancing by Wings of the Sea and a special prayer by Roger and Marge Asselin.
“We minister to them; we fed them food, and we blessed them with something that they can go and have a good time with their families on Thanksgiving.”
For 11 years now, Wright’s good friend Johnny Johnson has cooked a hearty meal for each Thanksgiving event. He was there when it was 60 people to prepare for, and he’s still here cooking for more than 500. On the menu this year included smoked turkey, yellow rice, chicken, green beans and cornbread.
And don’t forget the dessert. Eighty-year-old Lugenia Jackson made enough dessert to feed the 500 with a little leftover. She’s more than happy to give her time because she feels she’s contributing to the Lord’s work.
Wright has been stricken with glaucoma and had to rely heavily upon her family to pull off this year’s event. Unable to see well enough to type or read, she leaned on her daughter, Kewa Wright, to coordinate the giveaway.
Each year Glad Tidings gives a sizable monetary donation, and the rest comes from people in the community such as Toriano Parker and Advantage Financial Services, Kenneth Wright, Bill Jones, Jonathan Helms, Michael Slovik, City Councilman Charlie Gerdes and others.
But without Wright’s eyes on every detail, the turkey count got out of hand.
“This year was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We were in the overflow. I don’t know where they all came from.”
Wright lost track after the first 350.
“All I can tell you is that we were in the overflow of blessings,” she said. “We have never had an event with turkeys leftover. I’ve never experienced that before.”
Not only did the attendees receive a turkey, but all of the volunteers, program participants and vendors took home birds too. They even had 38 left to give to her church members the next day.
With her failing sight, Wright is on the fence about throwing her annual Christmas toy giveaway. She said the only way she’ll be able to pull it off is if her daughter will pitch in and help again. Since the toy drive is significantly smaller than the Thanksgiving giveaway, it usually only takes about two weeks to coordinate.