CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Frank Veltri passed away in 2001 but his memory and drive to give back to others continues to live on.

Volunteers were busy getting ready at the First Baptist Church in Charleston for the 52nd annual Frank Veltri Thanksgiving Dinner. The dinner that started in 1966 by Veltri, provides free meals on Thanksgiving for the less fortunate.

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Frank Veltri, a Charleston hotel owner, started the tradition Thanksgiving Day 1966.

“This was Mr. Veltri’s dream,” Carol Hodge, a long-time volunteer at the dinner, said. “It was almost like Martin Luther King, he had a dream. He has been gone since 2001 and for 17 years we have been blessed to carry on this tradition.”

Hodge noted before the dinner is all over with, over 200 volunteers will work at the dinner. She has been a volunteer at the dinner for 49 years and remembers Veltri as a second father.

“He never did wrong to anybody,” she said. “If someone were to come to him and ask for 20 dollars, he would give it to them. He never questioned anything like what they wanted it for or nothing. He would give you the shirt off his back.

“He was an indescribable man. I have never run across anyone in my life like Mr.Veltri.”

Between 200 and 250 meals are expected to be served at the church on Thursday, starting around 11:30 a.m. and lasting until all the food is gone. As of Wednesday morning. Hodge noted they have nearly 1,700 carryout meals that have been ordered, the highest number in years. The carryouts begin at 10 a.m.

Everything is free and Hodge encouraged anyone to show up and have a meal.

“Most people will come in, sit down and eat. Some people will ask for plates to take with them and I know they are just looking ahead to tomorrow’s meal. If there is food here, we will give it to them.

“We got food but these people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. They take advantage of this. Mr. Veltri’s philosophy was as long as we have food, give it to them.”

The menu includes 60 turkey breasts, 17 turkeys, 40 hams, 315 pies, 2,300 rolls, green beans, cranberry sauce, 80 pounds of dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, soda, and water.

First Baptist Church is located on 432 Shrewsbury Street in downtown Charleston.

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