A tradition of thanks and giving

Thanksgiving is all about tra­di­tion, and for almost half a cen­tu­ry, it’s been a tra­di­tion of Winchester First United Methodist Church to offer a hol­i­day din­ner to those who might oth­er­wise not have one.

The tra­di­tion returned this Thanksgiving after it was dis­con­tin­ued in 2020 because of con­cerns about the coro­n­avirus, but with a change — this time all the meals were for deliv­ery; there would be no din­ing in so as to reduce the risk.

At 10 o’clock Thursday morn­ing, the church’s base­ment din­ing hall and kitchen were crowd­ed. There was a long serv­ing line, but those who held out their sty­ro­foam box­es to be filled with turkey and gravy, mashed pota­toes and green beans were vol­un­teers like the masked servers on the oth­er side of the tables.

Mike Jackson, who has been the orga­niz­er of the effort for about a decade, called it “orga­nized chaos.”

He was in charge of over­see­ing about 150 work­ers for four hours.

“We just try to keep all the vol­un­teers mov­ing in the same direc­tion as best we can,” he said. “We try to make it as effi­cient as pos­si­ble so peo­ple aren’t here all day long. They’re already giv­ing up a lot of their holiday.”

But those who were help­ing didn’t seem to mind; they were hav­ing a good time.

Jamey Tolle said this was his first year.

“Our whole fam­i­ly … is involved,” he said.

“This is won­der­ful!” Pastor Farley Stuart remarked.

The church on Thursday deliv­ered near­ly 1,200 pre­pared meals. Stuart said he doesn’t know of any oth­er group in Clark County that was doing that on the same scale.

But it isn’t only Winchester First UMC that does it. Sister church­es First Fire and Trinity United Methodist — and this year First Church of God on Colby Road — played a big part in prepar­ing the meals and pro­vid­ing vol­un­teers, as did oth­ers from the community.

Jackson said that few­er than half of the vol­un­teers are from the Methodist congregations.

“About a third of them I’d nev­er seen before,” he said. “It’s not just our church.”

Jackson said par­tic­i­pants cooked the 61 turkeys at home and brought them to the kitchen to be carved and pre­pared, and all the side dish­es were pre­pared on-site.

The project began around 10 a.m. Thursday with a gath­er­ing in the sanc­tu­ary upstairs, and by about 2 p.m., the meals were deliv­ered and the cleanup was done.

“We actu­al­ly ran out of turkey” and had to make do with some “emer­gency ham,” for the last deliv­er­ies, he said.

All of the food is donat­ed by peo­ple in the community.

Jackson said the meals are for any­one, “no ques­tions asked.” Some have “food inse­cu­ri­ty issues.” Others are those who can’t cook or who might be home alone, he said. It doesn’t matter.

“If there’s a need, for what­ev­er rea­son, we’ll bring them a hot meal,” he said.

Jackson said he doesn’t know exact­ly when the tra­di­tion start­ed. How it start­ed, though, was that some­time in the 1970s, parish­ioners learned there were many wid­ow­ers and oth­er sin­gles in the church who wouldn’t be hav­ing Thanksgiving din­ner at home. So the church decid­ed to bring them togeth­er for food and fel­low­ship, and many fam­i­lies joined them as well.

  • Julia Lopresti pours gravy as a young volunteer helps fill a food box to be delivered.
  • Julia Lopresti, Libby Taylor and Gary Cornett were among the volunteers in the serving line at Winchester First UMC.
  • Harrison Ward talks to Libby Taylor as she helps fill his to-go box for the community holiday dinner delivery Thursday.
  • Volunteers Paul Merritt and Jay Lawless pack food boxes to be delivered.
  • Mike Jackson, center, organizer of Winchester First United Methodist Church's annual Thanksgiving dinner, confers with volunteer Chris Shearer from First Fire and Trinity UMC.

Eventually, they fig­ured that if there were that many sin­gle peo­ple in their church, the need in the com­mu­ni­ty for such an event must be great, so they opened the doors to those out­side their congregation.

Then they start­ed doing deliv­er­ies to home-bound peo­ple and oth­ers, and before this year, some­thing like 95 per­cent of all the meals were delivered.

Why do they do it?

“I think it fits per­fect­ly with what the church’s mis­sion should be,” Jackson said.

The church is called to help peo­ple in need and show hos­pi­tal­i­ty, but it’s also a way of express­ing grat­i­tude on a day set aside that purpose.

“It’s just giv­ing back and show­ing that we’re thank­ful for every­thing we have,” he said.

It’s also a way of show­ing appre­ci­a­tion to oth­er church­es and com­mu­ni­ty groups that feed the poor, those with dis­abil­i­ties, and oth­ers year-round, because some of them take the day off on Thanksgiving.

And none of the left­over food goes to waste, Jackson said, because at the end of the day, what­ev­er isn’t served to those who request­ed it goes to part­ners such as the Ark of Mercy and Beacon of Hope, so that they can also make use of it to help others.

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