Thanksgiving Community Dinners
At Note from Pastor Greg:
In 2008 First Church of God decided to provide a Thanksgiving dinner at the church for our community. The idea came out of a burden for those who don't have a place to go on Thanksgiving Day. It's a well-known fact that the holidays are some of the loneliest days of the year for many people. So, the idea was to provide a warm, inviting setting for the disenfranchised in our community. To view the videos from past Thanksgiving Dinners click here.
Our first thought was to go after the homeless in Indian River County but after further investigation we realized that our homeless shelters and distribution centers are doing a phenomenal job providing a Thanksgiving meal. We then decided to focus on the lonely. We didn't know who would show up but felt a very strong leading of God to move forward.
One concern was how the church would react to the idea because it would mean giving up 'family time' on Thanksgiving Day. You know where I'm going... "Don't mess with mom's plans on Thanksgiving!" To offset any 'mother meltdowns' we said that if you felt led to come and help, great, but it wasn't our intention to pull families away on such a special holiday.
Our driving focus was that "No one should be alone on Thanksgiving." That first year (2008), we were blown away by the response. We served 500 traditional Thanksgiving meals with all the trimmings. People were so appreciative and every volunteer was blessed immensely! The event had a large family reunion atmosphere. People were sitting together that didn't know each other but they were all just glad to have a place to belong. There was plenty of laughter, sharing and turkey!
We saw a lot of single people who just couldn't get out of town to be with family. We saw single parents, some with large families, who just craved the fellowship with other adults. We saw a large number of older adults who no longer prepared a turkey meal for just two people. Many of these individuals would end up in a restaurant on Thanksgiving but they would much rather have the fellowship with other families and people like them. No better place for the misplaced than in the company of God's family!
There was one story that God gave us to remind us of the importance of this event. One of our volunteers told me that I needed to meet an older man who was quietly eating his meal at a table. There were other people at his table but he just didn't seem to have it in him, to engage in much conversation. By sitting with him and getting to know his story, we learned that he was a retired French physicist who lived in our community. He spoke in a very strong French accent and shared that he didn't have any place to go for Thanksgiving this year. When asked why, with tears in his eyes he shared that just one week earlier, his wife passed away. They had been married well over 50 years and for the first time he didn't know where to go or what to do on Thanksgiving Day.
See, I told it was a God-story. That did it! Our church was hooked!
Now, many of our members have moved their own Thanksgiving Day events back a couple of hours so they can participate in the joy of giving. For our volunteers, the event doesn't start on Thursday of Thanksgiving, it begins on Sunday after third service when teams begin the transformation process in our worship center. Stacking chairs, setting up tables... the teams don't stop for four days! By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, every table is decorated as if we were receiving people into our homes for an intimate meal. Over 80 turkeys have been prepared and cooked, don't ask me how many potatoes are peeled and boiled but I will tell you - it's all from scratch. Would Jesus do any less?
The first year we served 500 and last year (2011) we served over 1700 meals.
We want every single lonely person in our county to have a place to go for Thanksgiving. God has taught us a lot about loving people. Now we live by the motto: "Jesus never cleans a fish until He catches it." Our job is pretty simple - love them just the way they are!
Pastor Greg Sempsrott
2011 Thanksgiving Slideshow
2010 Thanksgiving Slideshow
2009 Thanksgiving Slideshow
2009 Thanksgiving Video