Written by Angel Coker and approved for reprint by The Tuscaloosa News. Photography by Gary Cosby, Jr.
It’s the giving season — time to give volunteer hours, time to give donations and time to give thanks.
WTI Transport, a Tuscaloosa-based trucking company, is among the giving.
It honored U.S. Navy veteran, Jessie Neal, on Tuesday for his military and community service by giving him and his family loads of food and gifts in boxes and laundry baskets, including a Thanksgiving turkey and ham.
Departments within the company recently competed in a food drive as a way to give back to the community. Altogether along with some donations from Save-A-Lot grocery store in Northport, employees collected 2,857 items, including canned foods, crackers, soups, water, sodas, cereal, oatmeal, box dinners and other non-perishable food items.
“We have everything — breakfast, lunch and dinner items,” said WTI family care specialist, Billie-Jean Clayville.
The company plans to divide the goods among multiple veterans and their families chosen through the VA Medical Center.
“It started off, we were going to get enough food to feed Jessie’s family, but with the holidays coming up, we’ve raised enough food for probably 20 plus families,” said WTI president Rendy Taylor.
But the company wanted to honor Neal in particular in an effort to give thanks along with their donations.
“We couldn’t ask for a better person to sponsor,” Taylor said. “During this time, the conditions of the world as we know today, has brought us closer to the people who protect us, look after us and provide us our freedoms that we have. That’s the reason veterans are so important to us.”
Neal was sailor during World War II and served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946.
The 100-year-old veteran was born in Pickens County and now lives in Millport with his grandson and granddaughter-in-law. He had one daughter with his late wife of 65 years and has three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Neal was also the first black man to serve on the Millport Town Council, serving from 1980 to 1990 before serving as mayor pro tempore from 1990 to 2004.
He also served as chairman of the trustee board and on the deacon board at his church, Holly Grove Baptist.
His grandson, Marion Hodge, said it was nice to have others recognize his grandfather’s service to his community and his country.
“We’re very grateful. He has definitely meant a lot to us,” Hodge said. “I think he well deserves people honoring him today.”