JACKSONVILLE, Ark. – Thanksgiving has traditionally been a time to gather with family around a homecooked meal. However, as a lot of us worry about who is cooking, what and who is bringing this, we sometimes forget that some families are worried if they will be able to have a meal at all.
David O’Dell, pastor at Second Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said that he and the previous pastor at First Baptist Jacksonville came up with the idea of cooking a meal for families in their community six years ago.
“It actually came about at Newk’s in North Little Rock,” O’Dell said. “I was sitting and talking with Mark Smith, and I said, ‘Hey what do you think about this’ and then we started talking to people and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is great! Let’s do it!’”
Before COVID, Second Baptist, First Baptist, Crossroads Church, and several other partnerships within the community would partner together to provide, cook, and serve a meal for the community of Jacksonville for Thanksgiving. When COVID happened, they switched their operations to collecting and providing meal boxes instead. That is what they have done for the last two years now.
“This year we had a little over $1,100 given for the fulfillment of this event,” he said. “So, what we did was we packed up all these food boxes and each box had about a meal or two worth of groceries and then Tyson donated 500 frozen chickens to put in each box. And we had enough money given that we were able to put a $10 Kroger gift card in each box as well.”
There were 500 boxes in total. Volunteers from the churches and community distributed them at Jacksonville High School as a drive-thru where each car received a box of food, a Bible from the Gideons and a three-circle tract with a Gospel presentation.
“We also expanded our partnership with the Jacksonville Police Department, so towards the end we had boxes hand delivered by Jacksonville officers to shut-ins and families that were not able to get out and drive to the schools,” O’Dell said.
Close to 2,000 people were estimated to have been provided food, whether they came to the high school, or a box was delivered to them.
“The frustrating part about it was when we cooked and provided a meal, we could follow up with people and have Gospel conversations, but now people just got the box and left,” he said. “So, we kind of saw it as throwing seeds out on the ground.”
O’Dell was quick to emphasize that it has never been a one-church deal or idea from the beginning. It has always been a community-driven effort to partner and serve together.
“To me, and this is the great thing about it, it’s always been churches working together to minister to the community and partnering together,” O’Dell said. “To see the city of Jacksonville, to see the kids and the families when you see them come through and they’re emotionally thankful and grateful because now they have a Thanksgiving meal to cook…it’s just a really cool experience to be a part of.”