The organizer of the largest free Thanksgiving community meal in the county relies on 200-plus volunteers and the generosity of hundreds of others and businesses to make it happen.
The Rev. Mike Patton also counts on one other thing to make sense out of the chaos of bringing together those volunteers and then preparing nearly 500 meals on the evening before Thanksgiving each year.
“God keeps us straightened out,” Patton said as he oversaw preparations for the meal Wednesday afternoon at Michie’s Diner in Brownstown.
Patton, pastor of Mercy Christian Church and also the owner of Michie’s, said the majority of the meals are delivered from food prepared in assembly-line fashion at Brownstown Christian Church.
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Members of his church also staff Michie’s, where meals are prepared for those who can make their way to the Commerce Street restaurant. A few meals also were delivered out of there.
The first community meal at Thanksgiving was served six years ago and has continued to grow each year as people learn about it. Many can’t get to the restaurant, he said.
“They either don’t have a vehicle,” he said. “They don’t have gas money or they just can’t make it here to eat. I encourage people to come here to eat so we don’t have so many deliveries, but depending upon their situation, being shut-in or whatever, we will take it to them.”
Planning for meal begins in July, and cooking starts a few days in advance.
Margaret Gregory with Brownstown Christian Church led the effort to prepare meals for the second year in a row.
“On Saturday, we did 10 turkeys,”’ she said. “On Monday, we did 12 turkeys. John McCrary, Sue Duncan and I did those.”
While waiting for the turkeys to finish cooking, Gregory said she prepared the onions and celery for the dressing.
“We did 10 pans of that,” she said. “I did five last year and we were short.”
The church also provides the gravy, and the rest of the food came from other churches and people.
Gregory said she decided to get involved because she was asked.
“They needed it done and this is what I do,” Gregory said of working in the church kitchen. “I am a widow. I’m on my own, and I pretty much can do what I want.”
Another member of Brownstown Christian, Maggie Rohlfing, was helping out for the first time.
“When we get all our meals packed, we are going to take them over to the apartments and give them to families who don’t necessarily get to have a Thanksgiving dinner,” the 16-year-old said of the task she and other members of the church’s youth group were assigned.
Rohlfing said volunteering gives her satisfaction to be able to help others with something she takes for granted.
While most of the meals were delivered, some people such as Rosetta Loudermilk of Medora found their way to Michie’s.
“I just heard about it and just decided to come,” Loudermilk said of the free meal.
“I’ve been here before, but not for this,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
She said the idea of a free community meal was good.
“It’s pretty cool,” Shannon Davdison of Medora agreed.
Patton said if the event keeps getting bigger, he might have to consider some changes.
“It could get to the point where we might have to move it to Pewter Hall or the Christian Church,” he said. “Right now, we’re still able to handle it. It just depends upon what the Lord’s will is.”
He said he never has any trouble finding people to provide help or food.
“I have one lady who makes 12 sugar cream pies every year,” Patton said. “So a lot of this stuff is prepared with love and with the intention of someone getting a good meal.”
Patton said over the six years he has never run out of food. If there’s any extra at the end of the day, it’s given to a family who needs a little extra help.
“We hear about people when we are out delivering,” he said.
Some might be sent to the nearby Jackson County Juvenile Home or a food pantry at Brownstown Nazarene Church, he said.
The list of churches and other groups involved in the meal also has continued to grow over the years. The youth and others at Brownstown Baptist Church, for instance, helped prepare many of the desserts, Patton said.
Others involved included the Brownstown Ministerial Association, Blondie’s Pizzeria & Pub and Pewter Hall.