Recipe for a Blessing: Ohio Church’s Thanksgiving Outreach Adapts, Grows
By Carl Stagner
For fourteen years in a row, Thanksgiving has been an especially big deal for Elmore Church of God. Not many families want to trade a day off, TV coverage of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and National Dog Show, or their favorite football game for hours of hard work. Even when COVID threatened to derail their annual outreach, the Ohio congregation adapted and persevered, finding a way to keep serving people in need. A little bit of personal sacrifice has certainly gone a long way through the years, proving that a recipe for blessing means a taste for both the recipient and the giver.
In 2008, several area churches came together to respond to a problem: Ottawa County had one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire state. Pastors put their heads together and realized they could host a meal on Thanksgiving Day for local families, easing pressure on them and spreading a little holiday cheer. The high school would be the perfect setting for cooking and serving the hot meal, while advance preparation of desserts, donations, and volunteer recruitment would make the event possible. Consistently the local media would shine the spotlight on this Thanksgiving meal—among the numerous others—because this one was held on Thanksgiving Day itself, rather than the day before or the weekend prior.
Over time, some churches and local businesses dropped their support. But Elmore Church of God would not give in to the temptation to discontinue their crucial work at such a critical time for local families. The Church of God congregation continues to be the primary driver of the event each November, holding it at the high school, distributing both help and hope to every hungry individual that stops by.
When the pandemic created a complex web of problems for society, including ministry, Elmore Church of God would not be deterred. They switched from a dining room experience in the school cafeteria to meals on-the-go. The drive-through approach has proved highly effective, and the Thanksgiving outreach now provides up to 600 meals.
The church appreciates all the volunteer support they can get; even without dining-room service, hands are needed for cutting desserts, interacting with customers, and running here and there to accomplish a myriad of odd jobs. An estimated 40 volunteers are needed this year to support the impact of an outreach event of such magnitude.
While the obvious blessing goes to the people eating the meals, perhaps the obscured blessing is that which the volunteers experience. There’s always something special about helping others. “Serving the community, serving each other, feeding people—it’s all a blessing,” Pastor Tom Willhardt reflects. “The interaction with people in each car is really good. We’ve had people in different cars ask if we could pray with them, saying ‘I just have a need.’ It’s so cool to minister in this way.”
Even as under-resourced are among those receiving the free meals, there are many donations that come in on Thanksgiving Day from people who refuse to accept something for nothing. One year, as Pastor Tom recalls, enough donations came in to give a financial gift to a local coffee shop that employs persons with special needs. The church was essentially able to purchase a brand-new washer and dryer for them. The Thanksgiving outreach was a blessing that just kept on giving!
This year, the church is excited to announce yet a new offering as the outreach continues to adapt and grow. For those whose taste buds repel at the taste of turkey, ham is also on the menu.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash.