After two years of giving out unprepared food boxes on the Saturday before Thanksgiving due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Greene County Thanksgiving Outreach will once again have drivers criss-crossing Greene County on Thanksgiving morning delivering hot Thanksgiving meals to those in need this year.
It is a giving tradition that the organization has carried out for over 25 years with the help of area churches and volunteers.
The outreach began at Cedar Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church years ago, with maybe 300 people being served for Thanksgiving, according to Doug Cogburn, a leader of the organization. From those beginnings, the operation only grew, serving thousands each year.
In 2015, over 3,600 meals were delivered across Greene County, with one meal per person.
“When we were at our peak, Scott Niswonger told us that according to his calculations we were providing a meal to 5% of the county,” Cogburn said.
This year, about 1,600 people will have meals delivered to them on Thanksgiving morning through the efforts of the organization.
Over 25 local church and Ruritan Clubs are on deck to prepare the food for the meals, according to Cogburn.
Once cooked, the food will taken to Cedar Hill on Thursday morning where volunteers will be hard at work preparing the meals, boxing them, and getting them ready for delivery.
“I figure to have about 50 or 60 people helping on the inside this year,” Cogburn said.
The prepped meals will then be taken out to waiting vehicles for delivery.
There are 46 delivery routes that drivers will navigate on Thanksgiving morning to deliver the meals.
“Lots of times people bring their families to help deliver. It will probably be close to 100 people out making deliveries,” Cogburn said.
Churches will begin delivering their cooked food to Cedar Hill at 8:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning, and drivers will begin getting sent out at about 9 a.m., according to Cogburn.
To get all the pieces to fall into place takes some planning, but Cogburn says everything comes together each year.
“We started having our first meetings back in about July. Most of it just falls into place We give the churches a list of what we need, and they get back with us on what they can contribute. We are in pretty good shape this year. We needed about 100 pans of mashed potatoes, 100 pans of green beans and 125 cakes, and we have passed all that up by about 25 or 30 each,” Cogburn said. “Planning the delivery routes and getting that organized can take some time. I spent about 17 hours over the last two days putting together those routes. I sat down one morning with the laptop at about 10 or 11 o’clock and didn’t close it till about 9:30 that night.”
However, Cogburn says that all that time and effort is worthwhile for him and everyone else who helps make the Thanksgiving meal deliveries happen.
“It’s more than just providing a meal. It gives people, who live in their own world so often these days, a chance to get out and see how other people live and see how much need is out there. It can get them more in tune with helping with the food bank and soup kitchens who help people all year round,” Cogburn said. “I didn’t realize that other world was out there and its extent until I got involved.”
Cogburn began helping out with the meal deliveries “sometime in the ‘90s” and he hopes the outreach will carry on for many years.
“The drivers say you get a big blessing out of delivering and seeing people who are grateful to get that meal who don’t have anybody else to care for them or to cook for them. The best thing is these people getting out to help. Some people even take the same route each year so they can see the people from previous years,” Cogburn said.
Cogburn said that any volunteers are welcome to come to Cedar Hill Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 4170 Newport Highway, on Thanksgiving morning at 8:30 a.m. to help prepare and pack the meals.
“All they need to do is show up, and we will put them to work,” Cogburn said.