Wesley Park Meadows in Halls, Tenn., and Millington (Tenn.) Wesley Towers, are both United Methodist, HUD-subsidized rental units for low-income senior adults.">
United Methodists reach out to communities during holiday
by Kathy L. Gilbert
Can you keep a secret? On Nov. 27, the 24 residents of Wesley Meadows will be getting a surprise Thanksgiving feast prepared by their "sisters" at Millington Wesley Towers.
Wesley Park Meadows in Halls, Tenn., and Millington (Tenn.) Wesley Towers, are both United Methodist, HUD-subsidized rental units for low-income senior adults.
"One of the things I really miss is cooking Thanksgiving for family," says Helen Stiles, 79. She is president of Senior Friends, 35 to 40 women at Millington who love doing things for others. She will be in charge of cooking the 20-pound turkey.
"We’re all sisters under the skin," she explains.
The Towers has 81 residents, most of them 75 to 80 years old and 95 percent of them women. The complex is in a more urban area than Wesley Meadows, says Rick Barrow, manager of both units. It also allows more income per person, so the residents at Millington have a higher income than their more rural neighbors in Halls. The average age at the Meadows is between 80 and 85.
"Rick told us we in the Towers are living in luxury compared to the people at the Meadows," Helen says. "We discussed preparing Thanksgiving dinner, and everyone was all for it. We’re doing this out of love. Our ladies are always willing to help; they like to stay busy."
Senior Friends will cook turkey, ham, dressing, green beans, candied sweet potatoes, homemade hot rolls, and pumpkin and pecan pies, and provide fruit for those who can’t eat sugar. The women will be cooking the food in their own kitchens. The food will be transferred to hot trays, loaded into a van, and delivered door to door at Halls, 53 miles north of Millington.
"We will be the ones receiving a blessing," Stiles says.
This is just one story of generosity inspired by the love of neighbors. United Methodists across the country will be opening their hearts and doors to the people in their communities this Thanksgiving. If you are alone this holiday, chances are the local United Methodist church in your community has a place at the table for you.
First United Methodist Church in Portales, N.M., invites the entire community to attend an annual turkey dinner, and delivery is available for those who are unable to leave their homes. This will be the 49th year the church has held the dinner, and while the meal is not free, it is "very reasonably priced," says Nicole A. Tivis, administrative secretary for the church. The money raised from the dinner is used for various projects to help others.
For the fifth year, Ellis Gregory, 72, has seen to it that no one in his church family has to have Thanksgiving dinner alone. The Rev. W. Craig Curry of First United Methodist Church in Farmington, N.M., says Gregory sees this as his ministry and has several helpers from the church.
"The Sunday before Thanksgiving, I put up a signup sheet, and anyone is invited to come to the church," Gregory says. "We provide the turkey and ham and ask those coming to bring a covered dish. I have compassion for people who don’t have a place to go for the holiday. This church is my family."
At St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Las Cruces, N.M., 140 families will receive Thanksgiving dinners in big brown boxes. The church works with the community to get the names of families in need. Those names come from an elementary school one block from the church, a community-based organization for the poor, a women’s shelter for domestic violence victims and a prison family services group.
"This is a yearly offering of the people of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to help with families in need in the community," says Loyd Cain, minister of program. "The families range in size from three to 10-plus members. On Nov. 25, we will fill the boxes with turkey or ham and all the trimmings for a full meal based on the size of the family. The boxes will be delivered on Nov. 26."
"Our church is part of over 14 churches that provide a Thanksgiving Day dinner at the local recreation center in Denver, Pa.," says the Rev. Gene Wilkins, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church. The outreach ministry was the vision of a member of East Cocalico Church of the Brethren, he says. Two years ago, when the program started, more than 160 meals were served.
"Last year, over 390 were fed, and this year, who knows?" he says.
For the 20th straight year, the First United Methodist Church of Schuylkill Haven, Pa., will be offering its annual Thanksgiving dinner for the community. The dinner is free to all who attend, and the church will provide transportation if needed.
Students at the University of Texas in El Paso don’t have to eat alone either.
"Our campus ministry feeds ‘left behind’ students – most of them are international students – for Thanksgiving Day in the dorm," says the Rev. Felicia Hopkins. The youth at nearby St. Luke’s United Methodist Church cook and serve the dinner for the students. "It is a part of our ‘just because’ ministry. It’s a different way to reach out," she says.
Wesley United Methodist Church in St. Joseph, Mo., is adopting four families and will provide them with Thanksgiving dinner "fixins." "We believe each family should have the opportunity to share in a Thanksgiving meal together no matter what their economic situation is," says the Rev. Jim Barnett. In addition, the church also holds an annual Thanksgiving eve service.
First United Methodist Church in Odessa, Mo., prepares Thanksgiving supper for the KC Rescue Mission. The members have collected 85 pounds of chicken, 50 pounds of potatoes, and the makings for 250 biscuits and more for the dinner.
The Rev. Sarah Evans, pastor at Midway Locust Grove, Mo., says her church holds its annual "Service of Letters" on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. "I invite members of the congregation to write a letter to God using the question ‘How goes it with your soul?’ as the place to start. Letters are read by me or by the person who wrote it."
Haymes Chapel United Methodist Church in Marshfield, Mo., is a small congregation of only 21 members. However, every Thanksgiving and Christmas they find and support a needy family in the area with enough food for more than one good holiday meal.
"The children at the church (about seven or eight strong) collect money and buy gifts for other children in Webster County who would not have anything under their Christmas tree otherwise. This is a congregation that does its best to reflect God’s love for them in their deeds for others," says Wally Jones, lay missioner co-pastor.
Church members at Evangelical United Methodist Church in Pottsville, Pa., are celebrating Thanksgiving all month. The youth group has been gathering items each week to use in making gift bags for the participants at the local soup kitchen.
A Harvest Home service will be held Nov. 24. "At this service, we bring all the items to the altar to pray over them, thanking God for the abundance and seeking his blessing on all who receive each item. This outreach allows our congregation to meet new friends each year," says the Rev. Bonnie Yeager.
St. Luke United Methodist Church in Bristol, Va., also provides an annual dinner for the needy, elderly and people from nursing homes. The congregation provides transportation to the church for the dinner. "Last year, we fed 95; this year, we expect to serve 150. This is a small church with about 75 in worship," says the Rev. David Lewis.
"Every year, more than 75 members of Norton (Va.) United Methodist Church gather with its sister church, Norton First Church of God, to serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to the community. Last year, by 1 p.m., nearly 300 dinners had been delivered to people’s homes, with an additional 50 meals served at the church," says the Rev. Amy Cook Alcorn.
The Rev. Helen Stafford says Eastwick United Methodist Church of Philadelphia will prepare and donate 200 Thanksgiving baskets to economically challenged people. The baskets will be given out Nov. 26, following a special worship service for the recipients.
Boy Scout Troop 154 and St. John’s United Methodist Church in Ivyland, Pa., donated the canned goods, while Eastwick United Methodist Church and the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia provided the turkeys.
First United Methodist Church in Gallup, N.M., observes Thanksgiving in several ways, including providing a community meal on the second Thursday in November.
"The joy of the gathering is that our diverse community of Native American, Anglo, Hispanic, and Asian come together and eat," says the Rev. Layloni Louise Drake. "Those funds raised are used by the United Methodist Women for mission’s projects. Their goal every year is (to) give away every penny they have raised. They feed between 600 and 700 each year."
The church also coordinates the Community Thanksgiving Service on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and it participates in a program that provides food baskets for the needy.
Operation Thanksgiving means more than 600 families will receive Thanksgiving baskets in the Coatesville, Pa., area Nov. 26. The Rev. George Mamorian, who retired from Olivet in 2000, was the principal organizer of the program. The Rev. Joe Tyson, pastor of Olivet United Methodist Church, says church members have volunteered many hours registering families that are invited to request a gift of food at Thanksgiving.
Olivet members will join with other community volunteers at the area food bank to prepare food baskets, and they will help with the distribution. They will repeat that process in December to distribute Christmas gifts of food. Says Tyson: "This is the 15th year that the community of Coatesville has joined together in a united effort to provide for families in need within the community."
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service. Cathy Farmer, Memphis Area director of communications, provided information for this report.
Date posted: Nov 19, 2002