There’s Plenty for Everyone

Extreme Jobs

Who: Bea Gaddy, 68
Extreme Job: Thanksgiving Impresario
Where: Baltimore, Maryland


Update: Since this article was originally published, Bea Gaddy died of complications from breast cancer. Bea Gaddy Family Centers continues work in her name. Shortly after her death, Chuck Salter wrote a tribute to Gaddy and her work.

Bea Gaddy knows how to throw a dinner party. For the past 20 years, Gaddy has organized a Thanksgiving feast for thousands of people in hard-luck east Baltimore. Well, organized might be too strong a word; it’s a remarkably free-form affair. This month, there could be 5,000 people fed, which was last year’s incomplete count, or there may be as many as 23,000, the unofficial tally in 1999. Truth is, Gaddy never knows ahead of time precisely how many turkeys, pies, volunteers, and diners will be on hand. “We give out what comes in,” she says. The tradition started in 1981. Gaddy, then an unemployed mother raising five kids on food stamps, decided to start a community kitchen run by the needy for the needy. Using $290 she won playing the lottery, she bought enough food that Thanksgiving to feed 39 of her neighbors. Today, Gaddy is a Baltimore city-council member and runs the Bea Gaddy Family Centers, an outreach program. And her annual dinner has grown into an epic event. Last year, some 1,000 turkeys donated by Shady Brook Farms were prepared by inmates from two local correctional facilities, as were 1,000 gallons of gravy and cases upon cases of potatoes, dressing, and green beans. This year, inmates will be enlisted once again. The food will be delivered throughout the day, starting at 6 AM, to the lunchroom of the Dunbar Middle School, where the rest of Bea’s army–some 2,000 volunteers–will set up tables and chairs, and start serving at 11. “People just show up,” Gaddy says, “so I put ’em to work. By 11 that night, they’ll be just about done.”

About the author

Chuck Salter is a senior editor at Fast Company and a longtime award-winning feature writer for the magazine. In addition to his print, online and video stories, he performs live reported narratives at various conferences, and he edited the Fast Company anthologies Breakthrough Leadership, Hacking Hollywood, and #Unplug.