Feeding the Hungry, Clothing the
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
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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updated 13 October