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Turkey giveaway reaches 200 in North Charleston

December 20, 2016 GMT

If it weren’t for her neighbors, Mary Watkins would have no turkey to share with her family this Christmas.

“It was nice of them,” said Watkins, 61, of Mosstree Road in North Charleston, nodding across the church parking lot beside her home. “Thanks to Ms. Ella — she looks out for me.”

Ellas Lewis is the sexton at Canaan Missionary Baptist Church, a position that she describes as a little bit of everything: secretary, babysitter, youth leader and janitor all in one. This holiday season, the job also entailed helping coordinate a donation of about 200 holiday turkeys to families in need.

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Kevin Hollinshead, a North Charleston native and newly elected member of the Charleston County School Board, has been taking donations and giving away turkeys for three years now. This year, he decided to partner with the church in Park Circle, starting with home deliveries to the elderly and ending on Tuesday with a giveaway in the church fellowship hall.

“What I love about that church is they’ve always been known as a church with a heart, a community outreach church,” Hollinshead said. “They knew what to do to make the program be successful.”

Church leaders made note of the giveaway during Sunday morning announcements, word spread on Facebook, and the turkeys were gone within about two hours Tuesday.

“Some people do this big massive giveaway, have hundreds of people in the room. I try to be more humane about it,” Hollinshead said. “Nobody wants people to see that they’re in dire need.”

Hollinshead has been active in local politics for decades, including eight years spent serving on the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission, and he called on a few of his connections to help with the turkey giveaway. He said state Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, has always given donations, and Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, helped him to negotiate a good price on some turkeys.

Canaan Missionary Baptist was not the only church or organization to host a turkey giveaway this year. Hollinshead said he heard another group had purchased 500 turkeys from a local Wal-Mart. Durham School Services, a contractor that provides bus drivers to the Charleston County School District, gave away 475 turkeys to its workers this month, a company spokeswoman said.

Hollinshead said his efforts have been grassroots so far, although he is in the process of forming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. He does the work partly to honor his late wife, Monica, who died of cancer.

“I enjoy it. It’s something to do,” Hollinshead said. “After losing my wife 12 years ago and raising my children on my own, I try to show to God that I’m humble and willing to continue my work with my community. This is one of my ways I pay back.”

Monica was a teacher who worked at Mitchell Elementary, and Hollinshead said he remembers how she would take clothes to school for students in need. In one way or another, he hopes to carry on her work.

“We have always been a family of action, of community service,” Hollinshead said.