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First UMC planning for annual Thanksgiving meal

For close to 50 years, First United Methodist Church in downtown Winchester has opened its doors to the community on Thanksgiving Day for the traditional meal and fellowship.

With Thanksgiving a couple weeks away, planning is well underway for the annual event which will feed up to 1,400 people, between those who dine at the church and delivered meals.

Church member Mike Jackson has helped organize the operation for the last few years and spoke with The Sun about this year’s events.

Winchester Sun: How long has the church hosted the Thanksgiving meal?

Mike Jackson: I’m not exactly sure. I know it goes back to the 1970s. We’re in the 50-year range for sure. It’s changed over the years. I think when they first started … it wasn’t a delivery type thing. It was more if you don’t have someplace else to go… it was come and spend time with others and not be alone. Through the years, it’s branched out into how can we help others that can’t get out and its snowballed. In the last decade or decade and a half, it’s gotten much bigger and become a community gathering and outreach for everybody.

WS: Is the event mostly deliver now?

MJ: We’ll do between 1,300 and 1,400 individual meals and probably 80 to 85 percent is delivery out to people in the community. We still have some who come down and eat, but the vast majority of it is delivery.

WS: How many volunteers will you use to pull the event off?

MJ: In total, several hundred. On Thanksgiving Day, just for help with deliveries, we normally have 200-plus. On Wednesday, we normally average between 50 and 75 people who come down and help with set up. Some of them come back on Thursday. A lot of those people won’t be able to help Thursday because they’re traveling or with family or whatever. We’re going to be purchasing 62 turkeys this year, so we’ll have families or individuals that agree to bake those turkeys. That’s their way of helping. We have a couple people who come down to the church a week or two before to answer phones. Everybody does different little things to help out. It definitely takes a ton of people to make it work.

WS: Do volunteers come from outside the church?

MJ: Absolutely. It’s really become a community event. It is not just a church thing. Especially on the day of, more than half the people who come are not church members. They are people in the community who want to help with the ministry. It’s become a family tradition for a lot of people as well. A lot of them have been doing it for years. The kids were young when they started doing it. They are grown at this point and bringing their own kids in some cases. It’s definitely a community program at this point. It just happened to be sponsored by our church.

WS: You and your family have participated for years as well.

MJ: Mom and Dad were doing it for a long time. Becky and the kids and I have done it for at lease a decade now. It’s our tradition as well. We’ve had the same close group that’s been helping. It’s not just us but Keith Roberts and his family and Tim Schuereman and his family and Stuart Taylor and his family, and Dad still helps. We have this core group that has helped for several years putting it together.

WS: What does helping with the meal and ministry mean to you?

MJ: It’s just a small way to give back. It’s what we’re called to do is to help your neighbor. It’s just a hands-on way to do that. By no means is it just me, it’s the congregation and everyone who helps. It’s a practical way to help your neighbor and love your neighbor and help in a time of need.

Deliveries will begin around 10:30 a.m. Nov. 28. The church will be open beginning at 11 a.m. for anyone who wants to eat at the church. There is no charge and the meals are open to all. For more information or to volunteer, call the church at 859-744-5410.

About Fred Petke

Fred Petke is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. His beats include cops, courts, fire, public records, city and county government and other news. To contact Fred, email fred.petke@winchestersun.com or call 859-759-0051.

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