Gratitude for togetherness: Community Thanksgiving meals allow people to share food, fellowship

A stranger from North Vernon donated a $1,000 check. A businessman who donated food later showed up unannounced to help serve it.

The Rev. Charles Kennedy cannot explain people’s generosity and kindness for Columbus Baptist Church’s free, annual Feed the Flock Thanksgiving Day Meal except to say that God has abundantly blessed community efforts to reach those with no family nearby — or those without the means or ability to prepare a holiday meal.

“We couldn’t do this without the entire community,” Kennedy said. “And we had no idea what we were getting into when we started this 11 years ago. We had no idea the Lord would bless it quite like this.”

He referred partly to the record 814 dine-in and carryout meals church members and other volunteers prepared last year at the church, located at 4821 U.S. 31. Businesses donated turkeys, boxes and meal containers; residents donated homemade and store-bought pies; and the list goes on.

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Two other local free Thanksgiving meal sites remain popular — one today at the America and Roby Anderson Community Center at 421 McClure Road in Columbus, and one on Thursday at First Christian Church. All told, the three meal sites served more than 1,800 people last year, according to organizers. That’s about 23 percent more than in 2016, according to figures.

“There still are a large number of people here who have nobody to celebrate Thanksgiving with,” Kennedy said. “I know that a lot of us think everybody’s got family nearby, and that’s just not the case. There are older folks with no relatives and others who have lost a spouse.

“This gives us an opportunity to present them with a meal, and to take a moment to pray with them. And that has been an open door to minister to people.”

Volunteers always are careful to ask permission to pray. Kennedy said no one has ever turned it down. Some have told volunteers that their prayers were perfectly timed. One older woman getting home-delivered meals a few years ago became emotionally grateful when prayer surfaced, since her husband had fallen ill and been taken to the hospital the night before.

Volunteers coordinating First Christian’s Thursday meal with Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center are preparing for at least as many as last year’s 701 diners, according to organizers. That number includes those who received carryout meals delivered.

“They know where to easily find a lot of these addresses,” said Diane Doup, Lincoln-Central’s community outreach coordinator, who has worked on the meal event for years.

Besides the coordinating partners, others, such as Kramer’s Restaurant, are involved. Staff at Kramer’s cooks the turkeys for the affair that fed a record 788 people in 2013.

Nancy Lewis, First Christian’s connections minister, mentioned that it’s important for Christians to always be prepared to be “the hands and feet” of Jesus in extending love and hospitality to others.

“And what I see at First Christian (on Thanksgiving) is a real heart of servanthood,” Lewis said. “But I definitely don’t think that sense of service — getting out there in the trenches and being willing to make a real difference — is limited to just First Christian.”

This year, she is overseeing the event’s coordination passing from volunteer Joyce Thayer-Sword to volunteers Rachel and Mike Kerschner, who are among those whom Lewis sees as selfless servants. They have been heavily involved with First Christian’s regular meal sites through Love Chapel, plus their own Christian outreach.

“They have really gotten to know that (meals) population,” Lewis said.

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Local dinners are open to all, no matter people’s circumstances, and are not based upon financial need. The schedule is as follows:

  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at the America and Roby Anderson Community Center, 421 McClure Road in Columbus, presented by the State Street Area Association. Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department staff and State Street Area Association volunteers will deliver meals during that time, according to organizers. Organizers last year served about 300 people.
  • 12:30 to 2 p.m. Thursday at First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St. in Columbus, presented by First Christian and Lincoln-Central Neighborhood Family Center. Meal deliveries still can be reserved by calling First Christian at 812-379-4491 by 4 p.m. Monday. Organizers last year served 701 meals.
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday. Feed the Flock event at Columbus Baptist Church, 4821 U.S. 31. Reserve meals for home delivery by calling 812-371-1400 or 812-314-9767 or 812-344-1794 by 5 p.m. Monday.