Miss. volunteer firefighter helps feed thousands after April tornado
"The FEMA people said they'd never been treated so well or eaten food as good as they had here," Wren Firefighter Cheryl Mays said
By Ginna Parsons
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
WREN, Miss. — After a deadly tornado devastated parts of Monroe County on Friday, March 24, Cheryl Allbritton Mays found herself cooking a thousand meals a day.
Mays is the secretary/treasurer for the board of the Wren Volunteer Fire Department, and she's a volunteer firefighter.
"I came off search and rescue at 5 o'clock that Saturday morning, and I was here at the fire department at 11 a.m. cooking for volunteers, residents — anybody who needed a meal," said Mays, 66. "I was getting here at 5:30 in the morning and leaving at midnight."
Mays and her crew of volunteers prepared three meals a day for five weeks using food donated by volunteers, residents and the fire department.
"We didn't just stay in Wren," Mays said. "We went to Amory, Cason, Egypt. We took food to anybody who needed it. We didn't turn anybody away."
Mays said they'd fix eggs, grits, biscuits, tomato gravy and chocolate gravy for breakfast, while lunch and supper might be pork chops, hamburger steaks, grilled chicken, chicken spaghetti, lasagna or jambalaya with assorted vegetables and desserts.
"The FEMA people said they'd never been treated so well or eaten food as good as they had here," she said.
Mays, who worked at AmeriPride Services in Tupelo for 30 years before retiring in 2007, is the youngest of three children born to the late Robert and Ludean Allbritton.
"I got an early start in the kitchen," she said. "At age 10, I had to have supper ready. Before that, I worked in the fields with my daddy."
Mays remembers her mother preparing huge amounts of food for the family on Sundays — chicken, peas, potatoes and banana pudding.
"There would be 20 to 25 people every Sunday," she said. "Mama taught me how to cook, how to can and how to put things in the freezer. I've taught my kids and grandkids how to do the same."
Mays and her husband, Dennis, share two children, nine grandchildren and 18 great-grandsons.
She likes to hunt — deer hunt, hog hunt, elk hunt — and she and her husband process all their own meat.
"We make summer sausage, link sausage, breakfast sausage, cube steak," she said. "I like to make lard out of the fat."
She figures she tries a new recipe at least once a month.
"I work on them, add something to one, take something away from it," she said. "Not the first time. The first time I make it like it's supposed to be made, but after that, I do my own thing."