BAY ST. LOUIS -- Many would say Sally Kelly was the hostess with the mostest Thursday. The 82-year-old donned a special apron and grabbed her walking cane to greet the crowd attending her family's free, community-wide Thanksgiving dinner.
The Kelly Family Thanksgiving fed about 1,000 people in a sit-down, restaurant-style dinner at the American Legion Hall and delivered plates to 155 homebound Hancock County residents. Relatives said it was their largest crowd ever.
Kelly, the family matriarch, said it was good to see so many people, including those who've come to the family dinner "since Day 1." The family members live in Gulfport, Perkinston, Petal and Soso and in several states.
The dinner grew out of a family tradition of serving a free meal on Thanksgiving day at Mr. C's, a Bay restaurant run by Kelly's daughter and son-in-law, Beth and Cecil Scarbrough. The annual dinner outgrew the restaurant, so the family asked the American Legion for use of its hall. The restaurant closed five years later, but Kelly and her family didn't want to stop the tradition.
A daughter in Illinois couldn't attend this year, but made an apron for her mother to wear. It is labeled "Mom Kelly." The apron had space for relatives and guests to sign their names as a memento.
"Mom remains the driving force of the dinner," said another daughter, Nancy Kelly Bosarge.
The dinner started out as a way for the family to give back to the community. Sally Kelly said merchant donations give an added twist to Thanksgiving, which helps pay for the dinner.
"People buy groceries every day," Kelly said. "Grocery stores would go bankrupt without (patrons). It's a way for merchants to give back to the community.
"The middle of October, I go out and do what I call begging. I tell the merchants they need to make a donation. So most of them do."