- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Tracy Lawrence is spending the holiday week not only giving thanks but giving back: The country music star and his family have taken time from their Thanksgiving preparations to help some of Nashville’s neediest.

“Growing up as a kid, I was involved in the church, so I’ve always tried to give back doing different things,” Mr. Lawrence told The Washington Times of his 10th annual “Missions: Possible” Turkey Fry, which took place Tuesday at Nashville’s City Winery.

He said the notion of a mission to feed the needy in his hometown was spawned when he and wife Becca first cooked Thanksgiving dinners for the elderly in their church, which grew into an operation of getting his fellow home chefs together to fry turkey dinners for the homeless.

“That led the next year to sponsors wanting to come on board, and really it got a life of its own,” Mr. Lawrence said. “So now it’s to the point where we set up five pits of 50 to 65 fryers at one time, and fry up [hundreds of] turkeys [and take] some to the men’s mission, some to the women’s mission.”

The Turkey Fry teams up with local restaurants to deliver full meals to those they help. Mr. Lawrence and his family personally hand-deliver dinners to those living in government housing in Nashville as well as to those on the streets the night before Thanksgiving.

“We’ve kind of got to the point where the volume is maxed out because we don’t have the refrigeration capabilities to keep more than that,” Mr. Lawrence said. “With 500 turkeys, that’s about 7,000 plates of food.”

He says that while feeding the needy during the week when most Americans give mind only to the stuffing and cranberry sauce is important, he believes the Turkey Fry brings attention to the need to help the less fortunate every week of the year.

At the same time, he takes himself to task for being touched by cynicism as much as anyone else.

“I think we’re all a little jaded seeing the guy on the corner panhandling, and it’s all a little irritating,” Mr. Lawrence said. “We’ve all been guilty of saying to yourself, ‘Why don’t you get a job?’

“There’s a lot of different reasons people fall on hard times, and I think that once you realize there’s children over at the women’s mission, there’s children just fallen on hard times, there are people who have lost their jobs — it’s not just drug and alcohol addiction. There are other reasons that people just need a helping hand [and who are] not trying to take advantage of the system.”

The annual charity event brings out the best in his neighbors, he says. One woman drives the prepared meals to poor people living in dumpsters and pays for a night’s stay for them at area hotels out of her own pocket. Another gentlemen who has helped out for years raises money to purchase food and then brings about a hundred turkeys to the fire pits.

His Methodist family instilled in him the value of helping the less-fortunate, Mr. Lawrence says. Though “not extremely religious” as an adult today, he says those early lessons filled him with the desire to repay the universe when he came into wealth of his own.

“My dad was vice president of the bank of our town. We weren’t rich, but we never went hungry,” Mr. Lawrence said. “I grew up in an environment where [it] was extremely important to my family that we gave back to the community, so it was part of my upbringing.

“I grew up in a family with six kids, and we lived on a street with my aunt, my grandparents, lots of cousins, and the holidays were always a really big time for our family. There was always tons of people around.”

In addition to filling Nashville’s bellies, Mr. Lawrence and his famous pals also fed the souls of the volunteer force at Tuesday’s “Mission: Possible” event. Such luminaries as Charlie Daniels, Lorrie Morgan, Darryl Worley, Halfway to Hazard and Brad Arnold of 3 Doors Down joined Mr. Lawrence for a concert at the City Winery as part of the affair, raising an additional $30,000. Folks also donated items such as coats and canned goods to the Nashville Rescue Mission.

“This [was] the first year that we’ve done music, and I have fought it,” he said with a laugh. “Not because I don’t want to perform, [just that] it’s a very exhausting day. And it’s probably the one day where I’m the most accessible to people, where I really have to be in a good frame of mind to deal with the pulling and the pushing and everyone wanting a piece of me.”

Being a music star means not only appearing in public, but doing so under sometimes-incredibly crowded circumstances. Mr. Lawrence said the recent Paris attacks re-instilled in him fears of something terrible happening at a performance venue filled with thousands of his fans.

“Obviously I think people have to be diligent and pay attention to what’s going on around them, but I think it’s virtually impossible to protect every soft target. There’s absolutely no way that you can police all of that,” he said in a rather blunt assessment of the current climate of fear of attacks by Islamic State and other would-be terrorists on American soil. “I just have to put my faith in a higher power and just pay attention. I think we all have to pay a little more attention. Somebody up to no good typically stands out in the crowd.”

Mr. Lawrence, who grew up hunting and is a card-carrying member of the NRA, nonetheless decries the notion that a “good guy with a gun” is likely to become a hero when faced with a potential evildoer at an event like a rock concert.

“I don’t think people need to be allowed to carry guns in every situation. I think we have to have some common sense about it,” Mr. Lawrence said. “I think there are certain scenarios where you’re just asking for trouble.”

Of concerts particularly, where patron drinking is all assured, Mr. Lawrence said, “I personally don’t believe it’s smart to mix alcohol and firearms.”

Mr. Lawrence, who lives just outside of Nashville, rested up after Tuesday’s event and says he will spend Thanksgiving Day at home with his family and volunteers who come from far and wide to help out with the Turkey Fry. He is working on a potential album of duets.

He is already looking ahead to Turkey Fry 2016 and possibly expanding the effort to other cities beyond Nashville. He emphasizes that no government moneys go into the effort; the operation is completely privately funded.

“I think sometimes we all get a little bit jaded because we do see a lot of people out there taking advantage of the system,” Mr. Lawrence said, “but it’s the people that really need help, and if you can do enough to get just one person get their life back on track, then it’s been worth the effort.”

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