Lon-standing community efforts are continuing this year to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in challenging circumstances during the holidays.
But the effort is being undertaken in a little different manner due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Two of the ministries that have typically provided meals for the holiday are providing food boxes instead — the Greene County Thanksgiving Outreach and the Northern Greene County Churches United in Love Ministry.
The Greene County Thanksgiving Outreach, which is in its 27th year, typically provides a Thanksgiving meal on the holiday from its base at Cedar Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church with dozens of volunteers from a number of churches and organizations preparing the food, packaging the meals in containers and delivering them.
However, this year, the outreach hopes to provide food for several meals for families rather than one, said Aaron Caton, a member of the planning committee for Greene County Thanksgiving Outreach.
The Outreach is partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee to provide boxes to 800 families, about the same number of families who have been served in the past, he said.
Two boxes are to be delivered to each family, Caton said. One will have non-perishable items and another with meat and dairy items, he explained. The meat will depend on what Second Harvest has on hand.
The distribution is planned for Saturday. “We have volunteers lined up to deliver the food boxes to people’s homes,” Caton said. “We are hoping that it will provide enough items to provide people meals for several days or a week.”
The organization is not accepting any more requests for boxes as all of the 800 have been designated for specific families, he said.
The Greene County Thanksgiving Outreach began as an effort of Cedar Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which fed about 300 people at its first dinner. Last year, 3,828 were delivered, which involved more than 200 volunteers, 70 routes and 30 organizations.
COVID-19 safety concerns and restrictions also altered the Northern Greene County Churches United in Love Ministry’s Thanksgiving plans.
Typically the ministry, which consists of a coalition of churches serving the northern end of the county, hosts a “Thanksgiving with Friends” the day before Thanksgiving, where families can receive a free Thanksgiving meal either to eat in person or to be picked up. In the past the meal has been hosted at Union Temple Freewill Baptist Church’s Activities Building, where dozens of volunteers served up well over 1,000 dinners. Last year, about 1,350 free meals were provided.
“We just could not do the way we usually would,” said chairwoman of the organization Peggy Jones. “So we just kept working together to find a way to still help people and give them some food.”
The solution the ministry arrived at is a drive-through food box distribution, where families and individuals registered to receive a box can pick up their turkey or ham as well as other Thanksgiving staples. The food will either be frozen or nonperishable, and will not be cooked ahead of time.
“We made this decision to keep everybody safe and still get some food where it’s needed,” said Linda Evans, an organizer for the ministry’s Thanksgiving plans. “We’re still trying to get things where it needs to be but just trying to be careful.”
To plan for the meals, which will be boxed on Friday in preparation for the distribution Saturday at the ministry’s building at the intersection of West Pines and Smith Mill roads, names were collected including those who have been receiving the ministry’s assistance in other ways. Member churches were also invited to submit names to be added to the list.
“We’ve got our clients and our churches have reached out to the community and brought families that are in need,” Jones said.
This year there are 242 names on the list. Those people will receive ingredients for a full Thanksgiving dinner they can then cook at home.
“They’ll just pull up, we’ll mark their name off and put their turkey or ham and their box into the car, and they’ll drive off,” Jones explained.
The ministry is no longer accepting names.
In addition to these efforts, the Greeneville-Greene County Community Ministries is providing 300 Thanksgiving food boxes for families with children through a partnership with Second Harvest.
This effort began a number of years ago through a grant from the Feed the Children program. For the past few years, the program has been conducted through the partnership with Second Harvest, explained Carolyn Brooks, office manager and bookkeeper for the Community Ministries. The food boxes contain a complete Thanksgiving meal, including a turkey breast and the traditional sides.
The food boxes are distributed to the families of the children who have been adopted through its Christmas Angel Wings program. Families are contacted about the boxes and pick them up at the Community Ministries office.
That Christmas program was started to ensure children had Christmas gifts for the holiday, and the food boxes have been appreciated by the families as well, Brooks said.
“It is worth the effort,” she said. “We want to make sure that every child has something for Christmas morning. A lot of families are in need and the food box helps. They have appreciated them.”
Brooks said that about 200 of the boxes have already been distributed after the turkeys were provided by Second Harvest late last week. There were a few extra provided by Second Harvest, and those are being distributed to clients in other Community Ministries programs.