Cassopolis family donating Thanksgiving meals to area residents

CASSOPOLIS — Giving is built into the Thanksgiving traditions of the Smith family.

Each year, around noon on the holiday, family members load up vehicles to deliver meals to those in need. Even the family’s youngest take part in the tradition, and many of the family’s grandchildren grew up spending their Thanksgiving afternoons in the back of vans, helping to ensure their neighbors and fellow community members had a proper celebration.

“The whole family knows this comes first,” said Jacque Smith, the family’s grandmother, who started the tradition. “Our family dinner comes second.”

This year, the family will celebrate 20 years of giving.

Thanksgiving Day, the Smith family will be donating and delivering more than 100 home-cooked Thanksgiving meals to Cassopolis area families. Currently, the family is encouraging families who wish to receive assistance to request a meal by Friday, Nov. 20 and ask any community members who are able to donate funds or food items to the cause. Both donation and assistance inquires can be made by calling (269) 414-1050.

“This is our 20th year doing Thanksgiving dinners for the community,” Jacque said.

The family tradition was started 20 years ago by Jacque, with the help of Pat Ward, of Dowagiac. Jacque said she and her family took up the mantle of donating meals when they saw the need arise in Cassopolis.

“It has just grown so much,” Jacque said. “This year, with COVID, many churches can’t bring people in for Thanksgiving, so we are delivering to many families. We do this for whoever needs it.”

“This is about getting into the mindset that there is more to Thanksgiving than just getting together to eat,” added family member Jay Smith. “You need to look out for other people before you get consumed by yourself.”

Two decades after the first Thanksgiving she helped with, Jacque said she was happy to be celebrating 20 years of giving this year.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long,” she said. “We are the ones who feel blessed that we can still do this. When we started this, some of the [family] wasn’t even born yet. They’ve all come up with it. To see how they have grown with it is just neat to look back on.”

Two of those family members were Ella, 14, and Jamie, 17. Both of the girls said they were happy to help the community by making and donating Thanksgiving meals.

“I’ve grown up my whole life doing this,” Jamie said. “It’s natural for us.”

“It’s the gift of giving,” Ella added. “It makes all of us happy to know we are doing more and actually helping.”

Over the years, Jacque said the community has come to know her family to donate and deliver Thanksgiving meals. Each year, she said she receives support and donations from community members, for which she is grateful.

“It’s just a blessing that we are in this village,” she said. “They say it takes a village, and it truly does. This village has never let us down. We’ve never had to scrape the bottoms of our pockets to complete our meals. It’s a blessing that we have been able to make the donations for so many years.”

For the first time this year, the family’s efforts will be aided by a new and developing local business’s financial contributions. Grandson J.J. Smith is a partner and owner at H.H. Cassopolis, a soon-to-be operational marijuana facility located at 980 E. State St., Cassopolis. He said he wanted to give back this year not only as a member of his family but also as a business community member. That is why he, and the rest of the partners involved in H.H. Cassopolis, decided to donate a blank check to the family’s Thanksgiving efforts this year to help cover whatever needs arise.

“Nobody should go hungry, especially not on that day,” J.J. said. “We wanted to give back on behalf of our business to the community. We have a bunch of other plans to give back, but we wanted to start here and donate what is needed to the community for this day.”

Jacque said she was grateful for all donations, as it will help her family keep the tradition of giving back on Thanksgiving.

“We couldn’t do this by ourselves,” she said. “It really takes the community, and we really appreciate whatever anyone can give.”

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