STORY BY EMILY REED
Every Thanksgiving, many volunteers show up to Clanton First United Methodist Church to help make the holiday special for those throughout the community.
“Thanksgiving is a special time,” said volunteer Lynn Best. “It is really nice to be able to take a traditional, southern, Thanksgiving meal to someone who is not going to be able to be with others. Seeing the joy on their faces is what it is all about, and I am blessed so much by doing it.”
Around 2010, the church began providing traditional hot Thanksgiving meals to those who wanted them.
“Until last year, we served the meal at the church and provided takeouts for those that could not come,” said volunteer Gail Sharman. “There are so many people that live alone and cannot cook like they used to, but still want the traditional meal. Our volunteer delivery people provide a friendly-face, and let people know there are people who care about them. We feel like this is what the Lord has instructed us to do.”
The meals are open to anyone who would like them, and often consist of families who want to sit down and eat together, first responders that might have to work that day or those who can’t drive and would like a meal delivered to them. Additionally, the church delivers to residents at Cobblestone Apartments, truckers at the two truck stops in the county and those working the jail and the police station on Thanksgiving Day.
Sharman said the church usually provides for around 250 people.
Best said when she delivers to the shut-ins around the community, she will often find some people have prepared their tables at home, waiting on the meal to be delivered, ready to share with a neighbor coming over.
“It is always just sweet to see that they are wanting to have a special day with those that they know and are close with,” Best said.
Volunteer Tom Cuthbert said he has been volunteering to help with the meals since the beginning.
“I have always enjoyed serving others,” Cuthbert said. “Initially, I got involved because it was something for me to do on Thanksgiving when I didn’t have anything else going on. Now, it has become a regular routine.”
Cuthbert said he usually arrives at the church around 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to begin the prep work for the meal to be hot and ready for lunch.
One year, Cuthbert made roughly 100 pounds of mashed potatoes, spending the Wednesday before Thanksgiving preparing them.
“We had been challenged to make real mashed potatoes as opposed to the instant kind, so we accepted the challenge,” Cuthbert said. “After spending several hours making the mashed potatoes, we said we would never do that again.”
Best also recalled a time where the gymnasium floor at the church flooded prior to Thanksgiving.
“It rained so hard that water just flooded the gym,” Best said. “But, we kept cooking. Even the people that came to eat were mopping up water, but we still look back and say we enjoyed Thanksgiving lunch so much. When you put a lot of people together, some of which are pure strangers, you can accomplish a lot of things.”
Plans for the day to go smoothly begins in October where volunteers work to contact vendors, and also get a list of how many meals will need to be delivered.
“Our church members and other people in town provide the $30 it cost to provide the hams and turkeys,” Sharman said. “It also pays for the side items we serve. This really helps in keeping our cost down.”
The Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving volunteers bring their knives to help carve up the hams and turkeys, and Thanksgiving morning much of the work goes into making sure everything is ready for the meal to be served at lunch.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the food is served “togo” with no dine-in options at the church building.
“Seeing all of the volunteers with their families giving up their time to come together whether it is cooking, putting the plates together, or delivering meals to people who otherwise would not have a traditional meal on Thanksgiving is great,” Sharman said. “The volunteers could be home watching football, but instead they are serving the Lord.”