Woman opens heart for 8 families on Thanksgiving, creating 30-year tradition

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – She never dreamed an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner would become a 30-year tradition, but that’s exactly what happened when Geraldine Searcy opened her heart to eight families.

Searcy’s friends call her Gerry, and over the years, she’s made thousands of friends and hundreds of them join her every year to help feed the elderly and disabled at Thanksgiving.

“I think what I can do is invite a family into my house because I like to cook,” Searcy explained.

That was initially what Searcy had in mind for Thanksgiving 1987, but instead of hosting a family, she and her son Keith delivered meals to eight elderly shut ins.

“We got in the car after I cooked and delivered these plates,” she recalled.

Those meals were the beginning of the annual Keith Searcy Memorial Thanksgiving dinner.

(Photo: WKRN)

Now 30 years later, the dinner is held each Thanksgiving at Assumption Catholic Church where Searcy is an active parishioner.

Last year, Searcy and her army of volunteers cooked and packed 2,400 meals and delivered them to elderly and disabled on Thanksgiving morning.

“I probably have at least 500 volunteers, including the financial donors, and all the people who cook and all the people that come in that morning to make plates and then deliver. Some come just to deliver,” she said.

Many of the financial donors are former colleagues from the Metro courthouse, where Searcy worked as a deputy criminal court clerk for 29 years.

“I started hitting up all the lawyers and telling them, ‘You need to give me a check,’” she said. “I would tell them, ‘You need to come over to the church and help me on Thanksgiving morning.’”

Her power of persuasion soon inspired mayors and district attorneys.

“It’s just wonderful to see people from across the community come together to do this,” Former Metro District Attorney Torry Johnson said.

Searcy told News 2 the beauty of the program is no one person is more important than the other and that everyone has the same goal – to serve.

As summer is coming to an end, Searcy said she is already sending out donation letters for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. After a few health scares, Searcy said she knows careful planning now helps reduce stress later on.

“I would just get so carried away and worked and I would end up in the hospital… and then I started learning how to pace some of that, so I pace now,” she explained.

Searcy told News 2 she considered stepping away from the program five years ago, but ultimately decided not to.

“[The] first person who objected was my son Kevin. He said, ‘Mama you can’t stop. If you can’t do it, I’ll do it,’” she recalled.

With both of her sons now gone, Searcy relies on her young granddaughter Nikki, who has worked on her family’s traditional meal since she was 5-years-old.

“My mom and dad let me go and walk up to the front door and deliver a plate. Even then, I knew something was special because people would say thank you so much, I never knew how much one little plate could bring so much joy,” she told News 2.

Nikki is the third generation of Searcys to work in the program. Her father Kevin passed away two years ago. Searcy said she wants to update the name of the annual dinner to the Searcy Memorial Thanksgiving Dinner to honor both of her sons who were involved in the project.

Click here for more of Anne Holt’s Tennessee stories.