Churches of all sizes use Thanksgiving as a doorway to the gospel

FBC Swan Thanksgiving meal
Volunteers served homemade veggies and smoked turkey to some 54 guests at FBC Swan recently. (Submitted photo)

Although supply chain shortages have affected some ministries this Thanksgiving season, many churches are finding creative ways to serve their communities amid lingering COVID restrictions.

From sit-down meals to deliveries and drive-thru giveaways, congregations are using the holiday to share both Christ’s love and all the Thanksgiving fixings in cities and towns across Texas.

Rush Creek Church in Arlington continued its traditional Great Turkey Take Away by serving 400 families on Saturday, Nov. 20.

The church once distributed turkeys to clients but in recent years switched to grocery gift cards and boxes of seasonal non-perishable goods, said Eunice Cruz, director of compassion resources at the church.

“We gave them everything for the meal except a ham or turkey, which they can use the gift card to buy,” Cruz said. People started signing up in September to receive the boxes, telling the church how many people they expected for Thanksgiving. On giveaway day, church members and volunteers convey the boxes of food and gift cards to homes throughout the community.

“Purpose number one is to share the gospel with our community,” Cruz said, adding that the ministry allows recipients to host Thanksgiving in their homes without worrying about the financial burden. “We want to encourage a sense of belonging, that no one needs to be alone.”

In addition to sharing the gospel, volunteers also prayed with recipients. Each boxed meal contained a list of talking points that recipients could use to spur conversations about gratitude and spiritual things, also.

First Baptist Church of Swan, which has experienced revitalization through starting a food pantry, welcomed residents of its small community just north of Tyler to a sit-down meal in the church fellowship hall on Tuesday, November. 23.

Last summer, the congregation of 40 fed 40-50 families from the community each week. Numbers have increased in recent months, Pastor Jeremiah Dollgener said. On November 16, 83 families picked up food.

Clients register by filling out a simple form. “There’s no proof of residency or income required to get help,” Dollgener said. “People can get food when they need it.”

The church’s food pantry started almost two years ago, when Dollgener had a vision to do a food ministry and a benefactor who wished to remain anonymous eager to support it. The benefactor had grown up in Swan and wanted to give back to the community. He has remained a faithful, silent giving partner ever since.

In addition to the main donor, the FBC Swan food bank receives contributions from local grocery stores, church members, current and former Swan citizens. Tyler Pipe, just across Hwy. 69, is a major partner, Dollgener said. Members who volunteer are joined by members of other area churches who “love the vision and jump on board,” the pastor added.

On November 23, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the church did more than distribute food. As it did last year, the church invited clients and community members to sit down for a Thanksgiving meal.

“It’s amazing, when you look through the New Testament, how many meals Jesus shared with others,” Dollgener said. “We want to get to know the folks we serve, pray with them, encourage them, get them to know Jesus. The clients are already on our property. The next step is to get them to come inside the fellowship hall and enjoy a meal.”

To prepare for the event, a church member smoked seven turkeys, as he did last year. Other members prepared green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, rolls, dressing, and gravy. Pies purchased from Sam’s Club in Tyler rounded out the otherwise homemade meal.

Fifty-four guests attended the community Thanksgiving meal, which was advertised on social media and through flyers. Seventeen volunteers representing five area churches assisted in putting on the event. Recipients took home about 70 boxes of food for the holidays, too.

COVID protocols remained in place, with hand washing areas and masks available and plenty of room to spread out in the 2,000-square-foot fellowship hall, Dollgener said.

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