Among the many charities and churches that serve an annual Thanksgiving meal, one is working to feed more families and help them celebrate the holiday in a dignified way.
Mount Pleasant Christian Church members took home 1,200 empty totes earlier this year that they are filling with all the food needed for a family to eat Thanksgiving dinner at their own home.
The collection is part of the church’s annual Celebration of Abundance project. On Friday, the totes will be distributed to 1,200 families at the church.
The meal distribution began with feeding a few families in 2005, said Crystal Thompson, community connections coordinator for Mount Pleasant. The event grew as the need grew until the church was feeding 500 families every year since 2009.
More than doubling that number this year, the church is reaching out to these families by helping them celebrate at home.
“The difference I see is that we’re providing the food to allow folks to have a family dinner at home. I think it helps maintain dignity and fellowship for their individual families and fosters family relationships.
“It’s a lot different having one at your personal home than having one with hundreds of people you don’t know. I think it goes a lot of the way ... in fostering the closeness of a family and helping a family in need maintain dignity at a difficult time in their lives,” Thompson said.
She said the need has increased every year.
“We’ve had to turn people away in the past. This is in response to that,” Thompson said.
“We saw a lot of folks who were thankful for what they had but could not have a Thanksgiving meal. It’s a tradition. We saw that people weren’t able to do that, and we stepped up to help fill that gap.”
The totes are filled with a turkey provided through a partnership with Meijer, cans of vegetables, boxes of instant mashed potatoes, a box of stuffing, cans of fruit, a jar or can of gravy, cranberry sauce, paper plates, napkins, boxes of macaroni and cheese and desert.
The Warner family of Greenwood — Maegen, Aaron and daughters, Abby, 10 and Lauren, 6 — look forward to helping every year. The family also volunteers at the distribution, which is a celebration all its own, Maegen Warner said.
“We get the chance to see the people face-to-face and see the joy on their faces and have a night of fellowship as well ... It’s another night when we can spend time with them and share God’s love with them and encourage them on multiple levels. It’s a wonderful ministry.”
Maegen Warner said the program also gives her and Aaron the chance to talk with their daughters about giving back.
“The kids look forward to it every year. It’s important to us as a family. Our goal is to give them a ministry mindset and to teach them to serve others,” she said.
The message isn’t lost.
“I really like doing it because I like to see their happy faces when they receive (the tote). They get to have Thanksgiving dinner and it makes me realize that we are really lucky that we get to do this and that we get to have Thanksgiving dinners — and we take it for granted,” Abby Warner said.
Thanksgiving isn’t the only time the church feeds the hungry in the area. Year-round, the church’s Living Bread food pantry provides food to families from the southside of Indianapolis and Johnson and Morgan counties.
“If they have a need for food relief, we assist them,” Thompson said.
The food pantry helps about 160 households per week, and clients can come every week to get food.
“I definitely think the economic problems have a bearing on the growing need,” Thompson said, adding that in 2009, the pantry was giving food to more than 200 families a week.
“There are a lot of folks who we see who don’t quite qualify for food stamps or relief but are not able to put all the food necessary on the table. What we provide is not meant to support a whole family but fill in the gap,” Thompson said.
The food pantry provides clients with items including pasta sauce, vegetables, canned fruit, canned meats, chicken and tuna helper, peanut utter, jelly, personal hygiene products, laundry products and cereal.
The food pantry is supported by regional food banks, as well as the nearly 4,000-member congregation.