Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

St. Petersburg family's free Thanksgiving feast on hold this year

Darryl Jones holds a picture of his grandmother, Rosa Jackson, that he uses for motivation. Jones, 48, who had faithfully carried on his grandmother’s commitment, is battling colon cancer.

Times files (1999)

Darryl Jones holds a picture of his grandmother, Rosa Jackson, that he uses for motivation. Jones, 48, who had faithfully carried on his grandmother’s commitment, is battling colon cancer.

ST. PETERSBURG — An annual tradition dating back more than three decades will be missing this year.

The Rosa Jackson Thanksgiving Dinner, which carried on after the death of the woman who started the free holiday meal for the poor and lonely, is being canceled because of family illness.

Darryl Jones, 48, who had faithfully carried on his grandmother's commitment for the past decade, is battling colon cancer.

Like his grandmother, Jones did all the cooking for the meal that drew as many as 300 guests at its height. He smoked, grilled and fried dozens of turkeys in his mother's back yard to serve those who showed up at the Campbell Park Recreation Center for the annual Thanksgiving meal.

"He still wanted to have it this year, but I told him not to,'' said his mother, Eloise Jones, 72, who is also ailing.

In recent years, she and her son — who lives in Apopka and returns to St. Petersburg to prepare the holiday dinner — have talked about ending the event. They said donations were getting difficult to come by and fewer people were attending because there were more opportunities for a free holiday meal.

Rosa Jackson started her free dinners in 1973, using her own money and inviting guests to her home on Eighth Avenue S.

"The way it started out, all her kids were gone and she was lonely. She invited other people to come and have dinner with her. The Lord laid it on her heart,'' Eloise Jones said of her mother, who retired as a dietary worker from the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. "When she started out, it was just for the handicapped and senior citizens. Then it was for anyone who was hungry and lonely and wanted to fellowship.''

Sometimes the meal was delivered to those who couldn't attend.

Two years after it began, Mrs. Jackson moved the gathering to the Campbell Park Recreation Center in order to cater to the growing crowd. She also sought donations.

"In the beginning, it was her money and then some of the people that came and knew what she was doing gave donations,'' Mrs. Jackson's daughter said. "I wrote letters to different people and went around to different stores.''

Businesses were generous. One, Carter's Florist, prepared centerpieces for the dinner. There were many volunteers.

"We had one guy, he made the coffee every year. One lady made the punch," Eloise Jones recalled.

One year, Bill Foster, now St. Petersburg's mayor, showed up with his children, she said. Former City Council member Earnest Williams also came to help. People came for the meal from throughout St. Petersburg and even from Tampa and the beaches, Mrs. Jackson's daughter said.

"She was so nice. One Thanksgiving, we didn't have any food. She forgot to put aside anything for the family,'' her daughter said.

When she died of cancer in 1996, her family vowed that the dinner would continue. At least for this year, it will not.

"I was telling my daughter, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself this Thanksgiving,'' Eloise Jones said. "I was there with my mom and I was there with my son.''

Darryl Jones, who recently completed a regimen of radiation and chemotherapy, wants to continue his grandmother's legacy.

"I feel that I will be healthy again and I will be able to continue doing it for as long as I can,'' he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at or (727) 892-2283.

St. Petersburg family's free Thanksgiving feast on hold this year 11/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, November 13, 2010 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gradebook podcast: Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend on education reform


    Billy Townsend doesn't mince words. He considers Florida's education accountability system a fraud. He's likened the state Legislature to an abusive spouse. And he does it all in public, whether at the board table or on his blog. A former …

    Polk School Board member Billy Townsend
  2. Wesley Chapel man accused of possession of child porn


    WESLEY CHAPEL — A Wesley Chapel man was arrested Tuesday morning after authorities say he tried to buy child pornography from more than 10 users on a social networking app called MeetMe.

  3. There's a local memorial for Linkin Park's Chester Bennington this weekend

    Music & Concerts

    Because he sang so often, and so passionately, about the trials of pushing through pain and desperation, Linkin Park fans have taken the July 20 suicide of singer Chester Bennington really hard.

    Chester Bennington, left, performs during the MMRBQ Music Festival 2015 in Camden, N.J. Hundreds of Linkin Park fans are gathering to pay tribute to late singer weeks after his death. (Associated Press [2015])
  4. Where to pig out for National Bacon Lovers Day

    Food & Dining

    That's right: Sunday is the national day devoted to all things bacon, National Bacon Lovers Day. Which, really, isn't too different from the other 364 days of the year. But here's a little roundup of some special places to celebrate everyone's favorite meat snack (seriously, even vegans have a grudging respect …

    A creme-filled doughnut topped with maple frosting and bacon at Dough on MacDill Avenue in Tampa.
  5. White nationalist Richard Spencer speaks to select media in his office space on Monday in Alexandria, Virginia. [Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]