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The feeling was not entirely unknown to Mario Bailey.

He woke up Thursday with the same butterflies-in-the-stomach nervousness he used to get before playing in big games as a star wide receiver for the University of Washington.

Only this time, instead of football, he was thinking feast.

His Mario D. Bailey Foundation was hosting its second annual Family Feast later that day, providing free Thanksgiving meals and support and friendship to those in the community who needed them.

“It’s your event — you want everything to go well,” he said.

By later that day, it was pretty apparent that things were, indeed, going well.

There was tray after tray of food cooked up and brought in by hundreds of volunteers. People sat at the tables, eating from plates piled high with turkey, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes and green beans, as volunteers went around, asking if they wanted more.

Music thumped at Royal Esquire Club in Seattle’s Columbia City as people took to the dance floor and children chased each other in between sporadic stints of helping to clear the tables.

A photographer who had donated his services set up an area where families and friends posed together or got their pictures taken with Bailey.

“I wanted to make it a fun atmosphere — all you can eat, music,” Bailey said. “I wanted the community to come out, relax, have a good time.”

Bailey, 42, who played with the Huskies from 1989 through the 1991 national championship season, and also with NFL Europe on the Frankfurt Galaxy team, grew up in the Rainier Valley/Columbia City area. He coached football at Franklin High School and is now a social worker for King County.

He started his foundation — and the Family Feast — as a way of giving back to that community.

“I am a blessed man,” Bailey wrote on a placard displayed at the event. “My beliefs require me to exercise personal responsibility for others in this city. No one should be hungry in our city. We have enough resources, collectively, to ensure that no one go without a good meal.”

His two-year-old nonprofit foundation, which is funded by personal donations and is in the process of getting 501c3 status, is focused on doing acts of kindness.

Last year, it sponsored a family for Christmas, providing gifts and food and paying for outstanding bills. This year, it will be sponsoring two families for Christmas. The goal is to provide various types of relief year round.

The Family Feast started last year
not only to help those in need, but to bring together and celebrate the community.

Dozens of volunteers served 250 people last year. This year, they were on track to do the same.

More than a hundred volunteers had already shown up, helping dish out food and sitting down at tables to talk if people wanted the company.

“We want to fill their spirits, not just their stomachs,” said Yedit Bailey, an elementary-school secretary and Mario Bailey’s wife.

Yedit Bailey talked about some people she met at this year’s feast: The woman who told her she hadn’t eaten in four days; the man who rode by bus and bicycle to the feast in order to get some to-go boxes filled with food to take home to his family.

David, a 50-year-old man who is homeless and who declined to give his last name, said he knew of several shelters and missions that were hosting Thanksgiving meals.

But he decided to come to the Family Feast because “you can get more soul food, more food cooked with love here.”

David’s friend Unise, who also declined to give a last name, said she decided to come to the feast for a change of scenery from downtown Seattle.

“This comes from the heart,” she said of the food and festivities. “There are people dancing, music — it’s a nice time. It’s my first year here. It won’t be my last.”

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or On Twitter: @janettu