Thanksgiving is a day to celebrate the harvest and blessings of the past year. Several Arkansas Baptists use the national holiday as an opportunity to pour those blessings back into their communities.
In northwest Arkansas, First Baptist Church in Rogers has been engaged in providing Thanksgiving meals for close to 15 years, and nearly 35,000 meals have been distributed to date. This year, they provided 2,400 meals.
Steve Ellis, executive pastor for Church Planting & Missions at First Baptist Rogers, said around 20 volunteers were involved in distributing promotional flyers around Rogers, Garfield, and Pea Ridge in the ten days leading up to Thanksgiving. About 30 volunteers worked the call center, where members of these communities called to request meals. All 2,400 meals had been requested by Monday afternoon before Thanksgiving.
Ellis said there were close to 50 volunteers involved in cooking the Thanksgiving meal, and another 50 volunteers involved in packaging and plating the meals. The volunteers arrived as early as 4:30 a.m. to begin cooking the ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Meals also included a can of cranberry sauce, a hot roll, and either a slice of pie per individual or an entire pie for a family.
Approximately 700 volunteers, ranging in age from eight to 80, were involved in the entire Thanksgiving meal event, more than any other Encounter Mission project at First Baptist, Rogers, Ellis said.
Individuals and families who received a meal were given a box that included the New Testament in English or Spanish, information about the church, and specific details about their upcoming Christmas celebrations.
“We are tremendously blessed by the sacrifice of our faith family as they seek to serve our northwest Arkansas community,” Ellis said.
In Berryville, Freeman Heights Baptist Church members were able to feed 60 families, totaling about 200-300 people, during its Thanksgiving Day meal.
Senior Pastor Alan Brown said they begin planning for Thanksgiving after their fall festival. He said their church begins the Thanksgiving season by sharing in what they call Mission Feed Carroll County.
The church gets the names and addresses of families around the county that need a little help during the holiday season. They then cook chicken leg quarters, add canned goods, bread and any other food item they can collect along with a frozen turkey and distribute to each of those identified families.
Brown said one of their young adult ladies, Charnette Warren, coordinates and her father Steve Warren cooks the meat. The church members help distribute during the one-day event.
“It is a full day of handing out food, inviting people to Christ and the church and it is a blessing,” he said.
This year, the church also provided a full sit-down meal with turkey, ham and all the holiday fixings for anyone alone, needing a meal or wanting fellowship on Thanksgiving Day.
“We had several of our church families give up their day and cook, serve and deliver to help out anyone needing the love of Jesus and a hot meal,” Brown said. “We had a smaller group come to the church for the luncheon, but we were able to feed the Carroll County Sherriff’s Department and several other units in neighboring towns a hot meal while they served the community.”
Brown said he is “very honored to commend the church on its mission-mindedness and willingness to reach out to the lost, lonely and hurting people around us.”
“This event is member driven and comes from a heart to see people get a chance to be loved, ministered to, and in hopes of sharing Jesus with them,” he said.
Additionally, Brown said the church uses this event to help determine who can and should be helped for the Christmas season.
“Our aim is to share Jesus in hopes that the lost will be saved, and the saved will be encouraged,” Brown said. “During our fall festival we shared the gospel with everyone who attended. An attempt was made to share the gospel with all the people we served during our Thanksgiving mission opportunity. No matter how you look at this we are reaching people with the love and gospel of Jesus. I’m grateful that the members of Freeman Heights Baptist Church want to see people know and accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord.”
In Magnolia, Full Faith Community Church, a recent church plant, was able to serve 200 plus meals on Thanksgiving and donate 50 Operation Christmas Child boxes.
At Ridgeway Baptist Church in Nashville, they had the opportunity to serve more than 150 meals to the public during their 24th Annual Community Thanksgiving Day Dinner.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, volunteers from several Arkansas Baptist churches joined with area churches and businesses to provide 1,000 meals and 250 boxes of food to families in Jacksonville during the Community Thanksgiving Meal.
Now in its eighth year, the event was held at Jacksonville Middle School in Jacksonville. Arkansas Baptist churches involved in the endeavor include First Baptist Church, Jacksonville; Second Baptist Church, Jacksonville; and Marshall Road Baptist Church, Jacksonville. The North Pulaski Baptist Association also participated and provided resources for the event.
The churches contributed food items and other resources for the boxes. Crossroads Free Will Baptist Church in Jacksonville was also involved, along with a number of local businesses, providing funds for the endeavor as part of One City Initiative, which organizes the event each year.
“First, we provided a hot meal,” said David O’Dell, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Jacksonville. “So, folks were able to sit down and eat a hot hamburger or hot dog, chips, and a dessert. And second, as the first 250 families left the building after eating, they received a box of food with items for Thanksgiving and a $15 Kroger gift card.”
Volunteers from the churches spent time talking with those who attended the event, inviting them to visit area participating churches.
New this year, Unity Hospital, which recently opened in Jacksonville, was also on hand providing wellness blood pressure checks.
O’Dell said the Community Thanksgiving Meal provides an opportunity for volunteers in the churches and businesses to count their blessings and recognize how God has blessed them. But he also says the meal provides the chance “to serve others and to be a blessing, which are important at Thanksgiving.”
O’Dell said he and the others involved are already looking forward to next year’s event.
These are just a few examples of Arkansas Baptists serving their communities during the national day of thanks.