Chattanooga talks turkey to families, awards complete Thanksgiving meals

By: David Ibata

The Salvation Army in Chattanooga, Tennessee, made a generous offer to families in its “2 Generation TN Home” program: The makings of a complete Thanksgiving dinner, for free, simply by participating in a Zoom meeting on preparing the feast.

Besides providing the ingredients included in the dinner made in an instructional video, and instilling know-how and confidence, the initiative “is a chance for everyone to meet and interact with each other,” said Leah Smith, program manager for the Chattanooga Area Command. 

Funded by the Tennessee Department of Human Services, 2 Generation TN Home is a two-generation approach to help families escape the cycle of poverty through education of parents and children, and employment, social capital and health and well-being. 

The Thanksgiving video idea came out of a brainstorming session with staff.

“I have a very creative team,” Smith said. “There’s a small group of us – I’m the program manager, and we have two family coaches and an intern – and at a staff meeting, we came up with the idea of doing something hands-on. Sometimes, we need help in the kitchen, someone to show us what to do.”

Knowing many households are in the same situation – most everyone wants to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, but not everyone has an older relative who can pass on the cooking skills – the group decided to pair off to record videos of them preparing dinner. 

Family coach Monica Luithle and her husband Mike Luithle cooked the turkey; family coach Jackie Starr and her mother Sergeant Pam Starr, administrator of the Brunswick, Georgia, Corps, made mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing; and Smith and intern India Jones prepared a green bean casserole and sweet potato souffle.

Using her computer, Smith edited the raw videos into a production of about 60 minutes. The finished videos were part of a Zoom meeting Sunday evening, Nov. 15; links to the videos were posted to the 2GTN Facebook page so people could watch, and review, at their leisure. Participants included 10 families in the 2 Generation program, Smith and her three staffers, and Major Chiffonia Smith, Chattanooga area commander.

“The families who completed the program – that is, completed the how-to videos by participating on Zoom – will get a basket of non-perishable ingredients and a gift card to buy the turkey and other perishables, like milk, eggs and butter, the week before Thanksgiving,” Leah Smith said. 

“Money is tight, and it’s such a big deal for people to be able to cook Thanksgiving dinner for their families. We’re just really excited about it.”