AIDS victim’s family serves annual T’giving meal at Resource Center
Editor’s Note: Today Dallas Voice kicks off a six-week series titled, "Spirit of Giving," profiling LGBT individuals and groups and their allies who are conducting holiday service projects to help those less fortunate amid one of the deepest economic recessions in decades. If you or your organization is conducting a holiday service project that you’d be interested in having featured or listed as part of the series, call 214-754-8710 ext. 113 or e-mail email@example.com.
IRVING — About 400 Resource Center Dallas clients should give thanks next week that Cynthia Tingley was born with bright red hair.
Tingley, a straight volunteer who’s overseeing the annual Thanksgiving feast at RCD, is the cousin of Lanny Noland, a gay RCD client who began the tradition before dying from AIDS five years ago.
Each year since then, Noland’s mother, Diane Smith, has overseen the meal, with Tingley serving as one of the primary assistants. But this year, Smith was too ill to head up the effort, so Tingley is doing the honors.
Tingley said she and her team of helpers, who call themselves the Apple Dumpling Angels, have devoted countless hours over the last few months to collecting the supplies needed for the 14-dish extravaganza, known as "The Need to Feed." And Tingley will be taking the entire week off work to get ready for the Wednesday, Nov. 25 event.
She’s motivated in part by the memory of her cousin, whom she recalls riding horses with when they were as young as 6 years old. She’s also received some encouragement from her sick aunt, who’s been phoning almost constantly for updates on the preparations.
But Tingley said when she searches her heart for the real reason she’s doing it, she always comes back to her love for the RCD clients — and the thing she feels she has in common with many of them.
"I have bright red hair, and all my life I’ve been rejected," Tingley said. "Who else knows the feeling of rejection like this [the gay] community? And that’s where my heart is, and that’s where I’m going to be every Thanksgiving, right down there.
Don’t ever reject a redhead, because you don’t know how good her heart is."
Tingley and the Apple Dumpling Angels, made up primarily of her sisters and nieces, collected the bulk of the food for the meal by going door to door in her Irving neighborhood. In the tradition of the Boy Scouts, they left fliers about the meal alongside empty sacks.
"We would come back and it would be overflowing with food," she said. "I have enough to feed 360 right now, and it has just been such a blessing."
Last year, the meal fed 250, but this year — in part due to the recession — Tingley said she’s expecting an even bigger turnout. She aiming to feed 400 or more, and the meal will be open to not just RCD clients, but to everyone in need: "As long as we have food, we’re not going to turn anyone away, but we also like to send them home with a sack lunch," she said.
Tingley said in addition to collecting food from neighbors, she’s received donations from stores like Tom Thumb and Kroger. She also sent out a mass e-mail seeking donations at UT Southwestern Medical Center, where she serves as administrator over the hemophilia program, and she’s left empty bins around the center’s campus.
In conjunction with RCD staff, she’s now working to draw up a floor plan for the meal, including two service lines so people don’t have to wait and everyone has a place to sit. The meal will be served in lieu of RCD’s regular hot lunch for clients, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Tingley has recruited a co-worker’s husband who’s a chef to prepare some of the food, along with several others including her father, who’s agreed to smoke two turkeys. The Apple Dumpling Angels, who got their name because they all love to cook, plan to arrive at the Resource Center at 5 a.m. Wednesday to finish.
"My biggest thing is I want them to feel like kings and queens," Tingley said of the RCD clients. "Some of these people are really, really sick, and they wouldn’t get a [Thanksgiving] dinner if we didn’t do this for them."
As big as the annual Thanksgiving meal at RCD has become, Tingley said it may soon evolve into something even bigger. She said she’s seeking nonprofit status for the Apple Dumpling Angels, who would cook, clean and deliver food for those in need, such as elderly people and the many cancer and HIV patients she helps care for at her job.
"To me, it’s rewarding," Tingley said. "I don’t ever ask for anything in return, and I don’t want anything in return. I have everything I could possibly need in this world, and I just want to give back."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.