More than 400 people had a happier Thanksgiving, courtesy of the Leitchfield United Methodist Church, its men’s organization and several volunteers.
For the ninth year, the church opened the doors of its fellowship hall to the community, offering a free Thanksgiving meal to anyone who wanted to drop by. Volunteers also delivered meals to those who were homebound, and brought folks without transportation to the church for either carry-out or dine-in meals.
Jane Hayes of Leitchfield came to the church for a carry-out meal. It was her first time attending the community meal.
“We usually go to my sister’s, but my sister is sick and in bed,” Hayes said.Volunteer Scott Hurt helped her through the serving line, holding her take-out container as she selected the items she wanted. Once her meal was boxed, Hayes and Hurt headed out, followed by calls of “Happy Thanksgiving” from the servers.
Those staying to eat in the fellowship hall ranged from children to seniors, by themselves or in small groups. A couple of tables were filled by families sharing the meal and some time together.
Dave Martin, one of the meal’s organizers, said volunteers started home deliveries around 9:30 a.m., taking more than 210 meals out in the community. By early afternoon they’d had more than 125 dine-in visitors and another 100-plus carry-outs.
A lot of people would stop and have a meal first, then take meals home for neighbors or friends who couldn’t make it to the church, Martin said.
Work on the meal actually began Wednesday, he said. “We carved 18 turkeys and four hams in the morning. The afternoon shift peeled 160 pounds of potatoes, and bagged up dinner rolls for delivery, “ he said.
Thursday’s prep work began around 3:30 a.m., under the direction on head cook Heidi Arnold.
Martin said three shifts of volunteers were helping: delivery drivers, meal servers, and a smaller cleanup crew.
“We easily have 60 volunteers,” he said. “There’s at least 25 on deliveries. One family of six volunteered to do deliveries together.”
What started as a church project to help out those who didn’t have a place to go on Thanksgiving has morphed into a community-wide effort lead by the Methodist men’s group. Even people who aren’t members of the church volunteer to help out.
Martin said the entire church pitches in. “Most of the food was brought in by members of the church,” he said. Two other groups provided major centerpieces of the meal, though: Pit Road Sports Grill donated the four whole hams served, while the Twin Lakes chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation helped buy the turkeys.
Other funds for the meal come from donations and the proceeds of the church’s annual pig roast. Many of those enjoying Thursday’s meal made donations then.
Martin said the number of people served grows every year. The organizers really have no way of keeping track of how many are served because they’re too busy actually dishing up food, but they do know the amounts of home deliveries and food cooked have increased.
“We are serving everybody,” he said. “We don’t care about their income, they could be millionaires or they could be paupers.”
Instead they focus on the fellowship, offering companionship and a sense of community for all.
That’s one of the draws for Ralph and Ruby Allen of Leitchfield. After the couple finished their meal, the table they were sitting at became a gathering spot as others stopped to visit with them and enjoy some turkey and stuffing.
Ruby Allen said it was the second or third Thanksgiving they’d celebrated at the church.
“He said you’ve worked hard, you don’t feel good, let’s just go up there,” she said of her husband.