TAC churches feed the hungry for Thanksgiving
By Lindsay Peyton
Congregations around the Texas Annual Conference are finding ways to feed the hungry and love their neighbors this Thanksgiving. Some are offering community meals, while others are busy collecting items to distribute to families in need. Here are three shining examples.
Thanksgiving Feast at Klein UMC
The Thanksgiving Feast at Klein UMC actually began as an offshoot of a Bible study. The topic was leaving a legacy. “We wanted there to be fruit after the study and not just have it end,” Associate Pastor Jennifer Jordan said.
Before her ordination, Jordan was a member of the congregation and of the Bible study. The group brainstormed what they would want their legacy to be. An answer emerged – a Thanksgiving meal, served the day of the holiday, for those in need.
The first year, only two individuals showed up to enjoy what the group had prepared. But the volunteers were not discouraged. Both guests were homeless and had traveled far to come to the church. “We thought it was worth it – totally worth it,” Jordan said.
By the fifth year of the feast, there were a few hundred attending the Thanksgiving Feast. And, before COVID, 900 guests came to Klein UMC for the meal.
Then, the pandemic interrupted the congregation’s plans. Still, the church found ways to serve. The first year, Jordan said, volunteers cooked and delivered food to partnering organizations. Last year, they held a drive through.
“This year, we’re back open,” Jordan said. “And it’s business as usual.”
The 11th Annual Thanksgiving Feast will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 28. “Everyone is welcome,” Jordan said.
She explained that while some simply come for the meal, many come for fellowship. That’s why volunteers are needed not only to prepare and serve the food but also to visit with guests.
Steven Holly, a former congregant who now worships in The Woodlands, returns each year to lead the kitchen crew. They fire up the oven on Monday before Thanksgiving to start with the turkeys, then move onto the sides. “The morning of, it’s all ready to go,” Jordan said.
The ministry is supported entirely by donations. Church members pledge in advance – $25 to sponsor a turkey or $10 for a side. Usually, 50 turkeys are prepared, and 25 hams.
The church works with several partnering organizations in the area to reach all in need of a meal, including local food pantries, assistant ministries, day shelters and addiction recovery centers. Since COVID, Klein UMC also started a food pantry ministry for students at their local schools. Now those families are also invited to the feast.
The feast is also open to the police and fire department. “We want to make sure that anybody who works to serve the community that day knows they can get a meal with us,” Jordan said.
The entire church signs up to volunteer – from the onsite preschoolers who make placemats to the children's ministry that set-up and take-down the tables. “It’s become a great ministry and one of our largest outreaches,” Jordan said.
She explained that in addition to fostering discipleship and growing the Kingdom, the church’s mission is to be a positive presence in the community. “This ministry fits that really well,” she said. “There’s no worship. This is really about letting people know what we want to be in fellowship, feed you today and show you that you are important.”
Thanksgiving Baskets at FUMC Pearland and Redeemer Church
The goal of FUMC Pearland’s “Do Good Project” is to bring the hope of Jesus beyond the walls of the church. Several service and outreach projects are hosted throughout the year to positively impact the community. Pastor Wendy Heinemann explained that the Thanksgiving Food Drive is one example.
The pastoral team at FUMC Pearland also serves its campus in Manvel – Redeemer Church. Each congregation works with its local food bank and elementary school to identify those in need for Thanksgiving. The sign-up is online. The size of the basket will match the size of the family.
Past recipients also return, as well as members of the area senior center. The sign-up begins in mid-October. “We continue to take more until we reach capacity,” Heinemann said. “Together, our goal is to feed 300 families.”
Volunteers from all of the congregation’s small groups, including the Boy Scout Troops they sponsor, collect items that will be assembled later into bags. Each will be filled with dry goods, canned items, bags of potatoes, a voucher for a turkey and a gift card for fresh items like eggs, milk and butter. “It’s all the food you need to make a huge Thanksgiving feast,” Heinemann said.
She said that all hands are on deck to sort the goods. “There are pallets of canned green beans and pallets of sugar,” she said. “It’s a project that engages the entirety of our church, and a service children can do with their parents. And it’s one of those all-encompassing ministries.”
Heinemann explained that the Thanksgiving drive provides outreach to the community, as well as an opportunity for church members to serve. “People love to do this and find it immensely fulfilling,” she said.
Families pick up their Thanksgiving baskets on Nov. 19 – and the next day, the church launches its Angel Tree, to provide Christmas gifts for the same two elementary schools.
For the “Do Good Project,” small groups take turns with each ministry. For instance, one Sunday school class will restock the food pantry for a month, then another the next. “It engages all of our small groups, Sunday school classes and Bible studies in service,” Heinemann said. “And that’s part of discipleship.”
Community Thanksgiving Dinner at Grand Saline FUMC
When Rev. Susan Smith was appointed to Grand Saline FUMC in July 2020, she started to hear about the congregation’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. “It was one of those traditions that everyone talked about,” she recalled. “Everyone was excited about it, and there was an energy around it.”
Every year, church volunteers prepared a turkey dinner, complete with all the trimmings, for anyone who wanted to come. “And it was free to anyone whoever showed up,” Smith said.
The pastor knew that the tradition had to continue in the midst of the pandemic. Smith recalled, “We realized we couldn’t do it the way we always had, so we wondered, how do we adapt it so we can still do it?”
The congregation brainstormed. The first year members decided to serve a drive-through meal – and offer delivery to those who could not make it. The following Thanksgiving, Grand Saline FUMC added a small gathering in the fellowship hall. “This year, we’ll continue the hybrid model,” Smith said.
Delivery options are for homebound individuals or those who lack transportation. For the past two years, Smith has joined the drivers. Each meal that goes out is blessed beforehand.
Then, once Smith and the rest of the delivery team returns, the sit-down meal begins. The pastor says a blessing before guests dig in.
The meal is an opportunity for fellowship and a gift to neighbors, Smith said. Clients from the food pantry are invited to attend. People call in advance to request a delivery.
“We never run out of food,” Smith said. “We take any leftovers to staff at the nursing home or to those on duty at the police or fire station.”
Church members sign-up to bring different dishes. Others volunteer to serve or drive deliveries. “There are a variety of ways to help,” Smith said. “A lot of people outside the church even join us to help. That’s something we want to tap into – not only bringing people to church for worship but for service too.”
Members look forward to sharing their special sweet potato casserole or turkey with others. “We have people who have been a part of this for years,” Smith said.
And after they serve, the volunteers often sit down with the guests to break bread together. “We want people to know this is a place where all are welcome – and you will be loved,” Smith said.