Area churches preparing to serve neighbors in need for Thanksgiving
By Lindsay Peyton
At Katy FUMC, 1,000 cans of cranberry sauce and 500 jars of turkey gravy stand ready. A few miles down I-10, St. Peter’s UMC is collecting 1,000 boxes of stuffing, and at nearby Holy Covenant UMC, a mountain of boxed mashed potatoes is rising. These three United Methodist churches are part of an ecumenical tradition – the Katy Thanksgiving Feast, which provides holiday meals to families in need. This November, however, instead of creating an in-person dinner, each church is donating sides for at-home feasts. By changing their approach, the congregations refuse to let COVID-19 stand in the way of celebrating Thanksgiving.
The Thanksgiving Feast dates back to 2003, when the Antioch Baptist Missionary Church in Old Town Katy decided that no one in their area should go without a home-cooked Thanksgiving meal. Members began cooking out of their homes and small church kitchen.
Kathy Fraser, a member at Holy Covenant UMC, discovered the program in 2008, while searching for an opportunity to help others on Thanksgiving. She was aware of community-wide efforts in downtown Houston to feed those in need and wanted to find an option closer to home, in Katy.
“I wanted our family to be involved in giving back,” she said. “So I started asking around.”
When she found out about Antioch’s Thanksgiving, she called immediately. “I asked them if we could be a part of it,” Fraser recalled. “They said, ‘Absolutely. Come on.’”
Before long, Fraser brought more friends to be a part of the Thanksgiving celebration at Antioch.
“Each year, it got a little bit bigger,” she said. “Eventually, we put up tents and brought it outside, because we were doing so much.”
Finally, Fraser sat down with members of Antioch. “We’ve kind of outgrown what we’re doing,” she said.
She asked the church volunteers if they would consider working with other congregations to reach even more people, and the congregation agreed wholeheartedly.
Fraser brought her friend Steve Meadows, also a member at Holy Covenant, to help get the event off the ground. Together, they searched for venues for the meal, but instead decided that it would be best if area churches took turns hosting.
Donations come in from everywhere
The first year, Katy FUMC hosted. Randall’s donated turkeys, Good Ole Boys restaurant and catering volunteered to cook and package the meat. Twelve churches joined to provide side dishes and volunteers to serve the meals.
Before long, the congregations donated more, like canned goods, coats, diapers and Bibles in English and Spanish. Volunteers from the churches also offered to pray with any attendees who were interested.
Area nonprofits and businesses joined the celebration. Clothed By Faith, which donates clothing to those in need, set up tents at the event. Katy Budget Books set-up a children’s corner for young readers. The Pregnancy Help Center and the Christ Clinic provided medical assistance, and Hope Impacts expanded the service to local homeless residents. Katy Christian Ministries also attended and shared information about their offerings.
The churches began providing bilingual greeters to help guests and offering delivery to those who were homebound.
The feast continues despite COVID
Everything went smoothly for years until COVID-19 brought plans to a halt, Fraser explained. This would have marked the 10th anniversary of the Thanksgiving Feast – and her church was poised to host festivities this year.
An in-person event no longer made sense, nor did bringing supplies and food from various households. “We wanted to keep everyone safe, all of our guests and volunteers,” Fraser said.
The Katy Thanksgiving Feast steering committee found a perfect alternative. Katy Christian Ministries already planned to distribute turkeys during the month of November. “We thought maybe we could partner with their food pantry, which was already doing a drive-through,” she said.
The churches partnered with KCM to provide all of the sides to go with their dinners – and HEB has agreed to donate turkeys. “They’re not only getting a turkey now,” Fraser said. “They get a box of fixings to create their own Thanksgiving Feast at home.”
Bud and Joanie Ramser, members of FUMC Katy, came on board in 2017 and co-chaired the event in 2018, Fraser said. “They have been instrumental in procuring wonderful donations of coats and bibles and getting their Rejoice Sunday School actively involved,” she added.
Bud Ramser explained that usually, the Thanksgiving Feast serves about 900 to 1,100 individuals, either as a sit-down meal, take out or delivery. “It really is quite the operation, and it is a blessing to all the volunteers that make it happen,” he said.
This year will be different, Ramser said. “It’s not the same scale,” he said.
Still, he was glad that the churches found a way to continue the tradition. “The need is still there,” he said. “It’s not the same, but it’s the best we can do.”
Elizabeth Bücher, ministry assistant to the executive pastor, at St. Peter’s UMC, agreed. “It’s something we do collectively here in Katy; we all come together,” she said. “We can’t do as much, but we can still do something. It’s just looking different this year.”
Alison Leslie, who volunteers from St. Peter’s, said the first time attending the Thanksgiving Feast impressed her. “I was so blown away,” she said. “The focus was right where it needed to be, every step of the way – how do we serve the people their hearts, souls and spirits.”
Joining with KCM allows participating congregations to still reach those in need, without reinventing the wheel, Leslie added. “Like everything else, it’s not the same this year, but we can still put the same heart and intention into it,” she said.