MILWAUKEE - Nessah Jones didn't get to spend Thanksgiving 2020 with her grandmother, who died of COVID-19 three weeks before the holiday.
"Thanksgiving does not look the same, but for some people, they actually cannot physically make their meal," she said.
On Thanksgiving 2020, Jones helped other people's grandmothers -- serving up a holiday meal that almost wasn't. The unofficial group called “Home for Thanksgiving” almost stayed home after more than 20 years of bringing meals to Milwaukee-area seniors.
Organizer Thomas Tym was trying to reach the senior organizations they serve, the groups that provide them the names and addresses of the seniors who receive the Thanksgiving meals.
"One of them said no because of COVID, and the other one I couldn’t make contact with, and it turned out somebody passed away," said Tym.
In August, he told volunteers and donors the annual tradition of 20 years was off. Then, a month later, the senior group got in touch and the mission was back on. Tym scrambled to put on the event.
In two months, it all came together. In a year of national struggles, the meals still warmed hearts and tummies.
"Because we’re serving older adults, it’s like adopting a grandparent for the day, so having the younger kids able to deliver meals, seeing the light in their eyes when they get to deliver that meal and accept the gift from them, the food, that’s what it’s all about," said Tym. "Thanksgiving is about thanks."
The meal was the work of 100 volunteers like the Brandenburg sisters, Meagan, an eighth-grader and Melanie, a college student.
"This is our fourth year being part of the program," the younger sister said. "I definitely can’t see Thanksgiving without packing up meals and serving it to other people."
They joined the other volunteers to serve 250 pounds of turkey, which was cooked, prepared, and donated by DeRosa Restaurants, owners of The Chancery and Jose's Blue Sombrero. That donation came in a year when many restaurants have struggled because of the pandemic.
Besides the 250 pounds of turkey, "Home for Thanksgiving" also served 150 pounds of potatoes and 175 pounds of veggies, totaling 1,100 pounds of food.
While the pandemic couldn't wipe out this yearly project, it certainly sparked changes. Volunteers have to wait until next year to do their normal visits with seniors. This year, they're not allowed to go inside the seniors' homes.
"You’re going to have a ball because you get to spend time with them, and they’re just going to love your presence in their home," Tym told a first-time volunteer, previewing what he hopes will be back next year.
"That's probably the hardest part about this whole thing. Yes, it’s about food; yes, they need the food, but as a lot of the delivery people find out when they call those people, they spend a lot of time on the phone with them, just conversing with them. And they are lonely; they are very lonely. So, even the time we’re going to spend on the doorstep today will be valuable, because they’re going to see somebody else’s face," Tym told FOX6.
The changes come after a year of loss for the country, for the city, and for Nessa Jones. She's not letting that stop her from giving back.
"Hey, sometimes we complain about things that really don’t make sense, so we decided to start giving back to the community, and this is one of the projects that we did and we found so much joy from doing it," Jones said.
Again this year, she's back serving in a project that has taught her important lessons since Thanksgiving 2015.
"Keep yourself grounded," said Jones. "Do what you can. Not to say that you shouldn’t complain, but if there’s something you could do to help someone else, do it."