INDEPENDENCE, Va. -- It started seven years ago as a nice little church project: Cooking and delivering Thanksgiving dinner to about 75 neighbors.
By Saturday, Nov. 17, the project had grown to a giant community event, with more than 10 churches and other groups joining to provide 1,300 hot meals to Grayson County, Va.
“It got too big to do it in the church,” said the Rev. Terri Johnson Gregory, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Independence, which for the first six years orchestrated the meal from the church kitchen.
This year, the massive meal was put together and rolled out from Grayson County High School. About 60 volunteers started chopping onion and celery for the dressing at 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon. By 11 a.m. Saturday, the first meals were ready to be delivered to nursing homes, apartment complexes, and other homes suggested by the Grayson County Department of Social Services.
Volunteers also delivered meals to families served by First United Methodist Church’s “Lamb’s Table” community meal on Tuesday nights and Grayson County Backpack Ministry, which provides food to schoolchildren on weekends and holidays.
“The economy went down and more people found out about it,” said Mary Young, explaining how the annual event grew to be so large. “It’s for whoever needs it. You could also call and request a meal for yourself.”
The meal required 36 turkeys, 49 gallons of green beans, 42 gallons of gravy, 25 pounds of celery, 25 pounds of onions, and 10 bushels of potatoes, Young said. Some foods and supplies were donated by individuals and business.
About $2,700 to buy ingredients was donated by churches and individuals, Gregory said.
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“We had one lady tell us that was the first time she had mashed potatoes from ’real potatoes’ since we did this last year,” Young said.
Volunteers decided that the “least desirable” chore was peeling potatoes, which started at 6 a.m. on Saturday. The “most desirable” was delivering the meals to neighbors.
“We’re just friends helping friends,” said Dennis Harrington, who delivered Thanksgiving dinner to Penn Court apartments and Grayson Manor apartments-- the same places he delivers meals every Tuesday night for “Lamb’s Table.”
“We couldn’t do this without the help of the other churches,” said Sue Bryant, a member at First United Methodist. “It really brings the community together, and we enjoy being together.”
Participating churches included Bridle Creek United Methodist, Oak Grove United Methodist, Bethany United Methodist, Glenwood United Methodist, Elk Creek United Methodist Circuit, Flat Rock United Methodist, Longview United Methodist, Grant/Flat Ridge United Methodist, and Cox’s Chapel.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.