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The Thanksgiving event started in 1981. After federal funding cuts eliminated

her job, Gaddy found herself back on food stamps. With $290 she won on a 50-cent lottery ticket . . . she bought enough food to feed 39 of her equally hungry neighbors.

 

 

Feeding the Hungry, Clothing the Naked

A Bea Gaddy Bio

 

In 1933, Beatrice Frankie Fowler was born in Wake Forest, North Carolina, outside Raleigh. Her family was dirt poor but didn't have time to worry about the Great Depression. Her stepfather, violent and alcoholic, threw her and her brother out of the house when there was not enough food. "I know what's its like to hunt for food in a garbage can and eat out of a dumpster. As a homeless person I did it for years. I was left to fend for myself as a child, raped before I was a teenager, and tormented by the bonds of poverty."

By her mid-twenties, she was a high-school dropout and twice-divorced mother of five. For years, she went on and off welfare, working as a maid and a nurse's assistant, trying to get her life on track. Desperate to escape her impoverishment, she moved to New New York and then, in 1964, to Baltimore, where she befriended an attorney in her neighborhood named Bernard Pitts. He did for her what she would alter do for so many: he saw her potential. 

With his support, she earned a college degree and became a social worker. Her passion, she realized, was helping others.

 "When I was in junior high," says Cynthia Campbell, 42, Gaddy's daughter, "I remember the house filling up with boots one week because she had organized everybody to donate winter boots for kids. Later, she collected toys at Christmas for poor children and arranged for kids in the community to attend summer camp.

The Thanksgiving event started in 1981. After federal funding cuts eliminated her job, Gaddy found herself back on food stamps. With $290 she won on a 50-cent lottery ticket -- a longtime habit that became an unorthodox method of fund-raising for her organization -- she bought enough food to feed 39 of her equally hungry neighbors. It was then that she decided to start a community kitchen for the needy run by the needy. She begged grocers fro donations and gave away whatever she collected.

In the early years, the Thanksgiving dinner took place on the sidewalk in front of her home, where Gaddy did much of the cooking herself. Eventually, she moved to a nearby middle school to accommodate thousands of diners. She even sent meals and used-winter clothing to shelters in North Carolina, Virginia, and New Jersey. Ever resourceful and doggedly persistent, Gaddy relied on an expanding network of donors: Shady Brook Farms donated turkeys; local grocers, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans; and the Maryland Correctional facility in Hagerstown did the cooking. Without these and many other contributions, Gaddy estimated that the bill would be several hundred thousand dollars.

In addition to the food pantry, Gaddy operated a shelter for women and children, a furniture bank, and a program that refurbished abandoned rowhouses for impoverished families. A cancer victim's center and a drug rehabilitation house were slated to be next. In August 2002 she became an ordained minister, so that she could marry and bury the poor at no cost.. her outreach work in the inner-city represented a very personal mission, because the broken lives that she encountered were often reminiscent of her own struggles. For she had been homeless, unemployed, and hungry. Once he had a home of her own, she thought nothing of sharing it with strangers living on the street.

Many of her admirers associated Gaddy with a single day of the year: Thanksgiving. Her holiday feast became legendary. It grew from an intimate gathering of a few dozen neighbors to a sprawling all-day affair, with as many as 20,000 people, on the grounds of a nearby middle school. The event made Gaddy, whom volunteers called "Shorty" (she was five feet three inches tall), almost larger than life.

Known as the Mother Teresa of Baltimore and Saint Bea, she was named one of former president George Bush's "thousand points of light" and once selected Family Circle magazine's woman of the year.

Died October 3, 2001 of complications from breast cancer. She was 68. Baltimore, for the first time in twenty years, did not have Bea Gaddy on Thanksgiving to feed and clothe the poor. People were relieved however that the Gaddy tradition will be carried on by her daughters and friends.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 13 October 2007

 

 

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Related files: An Angel Among Us  Gaddy on Loving  Funeral Service Gaddy  Feeding the Hungry