ATLANTIC CITY — Behind the doors of Indra Owens’ home at Arkansas Avenue and Gramercy Avenue was a bustling pre-Thanksgiving effort to prep hot meals and ship them out the door to “pop up” around the city.

Owens and longtime friend Automne Bennett founded Princess Inc., a nonprofit that fosters mentoring, education, empowerment and community service for girls in the city. The group’s goal before this Thanksgiving was to serve more than 300 people who were wandering the streets homeless, by going right to them.

“Just make people feel good,” Owens told volunteers as they flooded her home Saturday, handing off bags of food.

Owens and Bennett organized the mission, dubbed “Thanksgiving To Go.” The group packaged tote bags filled with meals and necessities and had family, friends, group members and volunteers deliver them to local homeless.

A total of 422 people were identified as experiencing homelessness in Atlantic County this year, 54 fewer than in 2016, according to the 2017 Point-in-Time Count with NJ Counts 2017.

But Owens said she’s been noticing the homeless population in the city growing, so she wanted to bring meals right to people in need instead of having them wait in long lines, either outside or in crowded facilities.

“We want to show them that they’re loved, appreciated and their circumstance doesn’t dictate how much people care about them,” Bennett said.

About 50 people flooded in and out of Owens’ home, dozens of cars lining the street, including a jitney that pulled up to transport bags that each held a full dinner, a dessert, a “love note” with an inspirational message and a hat and scarf set.

Volunteers then dispersed around the community, stopping at locations such as outside the Atlantic City Free Public Library, the bus station, at California and Pacific avenues and along Tennessee Avenue, offering a bag to whomever needed one.

Bennett and Owens have been leading Princess Inc. since 2011. The princesses, who are between the ages of 13 and 16, are nominated by members of the community to be a part of it.

They get mentoring, college preparation, volunteer work and learn to overcome obstacles and identify their own strengths. The organization gives out scholarships, and the founders want to make sure the girls invest in their communities — so this event tied right into their mission, Bennett said.

On Saturday, four of the princesses assembled meals in to-go boxes, sending them off to the bagging area, and then to the transporting area.

“We’re preparing food for people in need, and we’re trying to make it as homey as possible,” said Jacqui Kennedy, 13, who attends the Sovereign Avenue School.

The group has done initiatives like this before, having given necessities to the homeless in Brown’s Park in the spring, but this is a larger-scale project, they said.

“It makes me appreciate what we have,” said Melissa Stewart, 15.

The organization operates solely out of Owens’ home, which helps foster the intimate setting in which they want to work with the girls. But they want to find a new facility to be able to expand, they said.

The focus Saturday, however, was on making sure every resident of Atlantic City felt “loved and full” nearing Thanksgiving, Owens said.

The group reached out to businesses in the area, such as the Knife and Fork Inn, Dock’s Oyster House, Caesars Entertainment and the Smithville Inn, for food and utensil donations.

When all the bags were given out, the volunteers convened back at Owens’ house.

“That’s it,” Owens said. “Teamwork makes the dream work.”

Contact: 609-272-7239 Twitter @ACPressSerpico

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