Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Dinner in the Community

Community Thanksgiving
Free Dinner Today 4-6 PM

You might have seen these colorful signs along a road near us today. And then you might have seen dozens of people mingling and eating in a parking lot. What's up with that?

Local Impact is a church-based ministry to those who live in transitional housing at a local extended stay motel, as well as to those who live on the streets or in the woods. These are our neighbors.

We host a community event most months, usually a full dinner in the parking lot at the motel. Our Thanksgiving meal (the Sunday before the holiday) and Christmas party (cookies and cocoa and presents) are the two biggest of the year.

Here is a photo journal of our Thanksgiving effort:

The food gathering started in the weeks before the outreach. Folks at Metro Life, the sponsoring church, donate much of the food, and whatever is still needed is purchased by the Local Impact team. Publix, a local grocery chain, donates the baked goods each month. Whatever food is not used for the dinner is given away in bags at the outreach.

On Friday night, teams gathered at the church building to cook, assemble materials, repair equipment, and prepare flyers for the motel. Many of the volunteers, like me, don't even attend Metro Life, but we love what they are doing. I have an extra incentive since my second oldest daughter and her husband started the event a few years ago and she organizes it most months. Tagging along on her projects is about the most exciting thing I can imagine!

Food prep: cutting up ham and turkey, making stuffing, opening cranberry sauce and beans, and making the mashed potatoes! Oh, the potatoes! Cleaning, peeling, cooking, mashing, mixing - I don't know how many bags of potatoes they used but they aimed for at least 150 servings.

Several people repaired the wood benches and tables.

We used autumn silk flower bouquets from the church.

We had to attach rubber bands to the invitations right away so they could be hung on door knobs at the motel that evening.

I was also in the group that assembled utensil bundles with decorative napkins, and Scripture tags, and raffia cord.

A few hours before the dinner, I put up three signs that my youngest daughter and I made. It rained before the event, so it's a good thing we used permanent markers, foam board, and adhesive foam leaf stickers.

All of the serving tables, guest benches and guest tables were transported in a trailer and pickup truck.

The clothes, already on racks from the church's community clothes closet, arrived in the trailer, too.

Volunteers checked in at this table to get their name tags and assignments.

This dear lady gathers up "blessing bags" of toiletries to give away each month, and we had food to give this month, too. We all miss her husband, who passed away a few months ago. He was a much loved member of our team.

In addition to the bouquets from the church, I brought along several small table decorations. I'm glad I bought some heavy clear tape too, because it was a bit windy and we had to tape down the plastic table cloths.

My big scarecrow found a place against a tree.

The kids did simple crafts at this table with construction paper, markers, and the rest of the foam leaf stickers.

Time for music! No, the lady in blue is not me, but we are so often mistaken for one another that we call ourselves the "Ginny Twinnies." (Her name is Ginny and Ginny Lynn was my childhood nickname.)

Here we are together. She's my 20-years-younger-doppleganger.

Just some of our dozens of volunteers! The kids love to help! That's my little one in the pink.

Our guests started to gather at the nine tables before the meal. 

It was so crowded at one point that some people chose to sit on the curbs. This man is one of our regular guests.


Daniel offered a short gospel message as people ate, and we offered to talk or pray with anyone who is interested. 

I was so blessed to listen to my daughter pray for one older homeless couple about their health problems. They have been my friends for many years and I try to stop and talk whenever I see them on the street corner. Can you please pray for them, too?

The young man with the beard and his wife have come for two months, and he was enthusiastically telling me how much the kindness (which goes beyond the monthly meal) has meant to their family. 

Does it make a difference?

Earlier this year, a young Muslim couple with a young child arrived from a country that is not open to Christianity. They didn't have a permanent place to stay, so they rented a room at the motel. They came to a dinner - I think it was the Easter one - where Ginny and others befriended them. Touched by the good news about Jesus, they eventually chose to become Christians and were baptized. Ginny's church has continued to reach out to them as they start their new lives in this country. The cool thing? They are now a vital part of the Local Impact outreach team.

Think about that when you hear about the Syrian refugee debate.

One final photo. When I saw this photo that my teenage daughter took of her feet in the puddle in the parking lot, it looked like she was standing in a heart shaped shadow.

And I thought: That's why we do this. We do this for the heart. We do this for love.

A friend posted on my Facebook wall this evening that she had seen me talking to a man at a bus stop today and wanted to thank me for reaching out. I don't know if he was homeless - I didn't ask - but I did tell him about the dinner and asked him to spread the word if anyone else came by. My friend reminded me that we never know who is watching us. She didn't even know about the dinner, but she already knew that I often bring food, water, and supplies to our homeless friends. That opened a conversation thread about what we are doing and why. 

I'd love for this to spread to other churches and communities, and that's why I'm writing this! You can get involved, too! Read more here!

P.S. I took some of these photos, but others were taken by my teenage daughter Naomi and by my friend Amber Carroll.