Community Thanksgiving Dinner Feeds the Body and the Soul

By Rick Wolcott*

Walking into Medina United Methodist Church (Canal District) on Sunday, November 19 for the Community Thanksgiving Dinner it was easy to see why members tout the church as “a place to begin, a place to belong.”

Guests and members, alike, were greeted by a smiling person opening the exterior church door another opening the interior door and a third directing them to the coat rack while offering instructions on where to go to be seated for the dinner.

On this day, the church galleria became a full-serve restaurant.  Guests sat at tables with real plates, silverware, and glasses.  They had a wait staff to take their orders, bring their meals, and bus their dishes.  They heard music played by the youth praise team, and had the opportunity to pray with members of the church, if they wished.

“This meal began as an outreach to our food pantry clients and others in need when the church was located on the square and we were looking for ways to connect to the community during Medina’s famous candlelight walk,” said Lisa Herr, who coordinated the kitchen volunteers and the cooking of the food.

Fast-forward 10 years.  The church is in a new location on a residential street east of the hustle and bustle of downtown – but the dinner is as popular as ever.

“This meal brings the community together,” said Howard, who despite the church’s move in 2012 continues to come to the meal to fellowship with others.  “Like a lot of people, I don’t have anywhere to go so this is my Thanksgiving.”

Medina UMC members donated all of the food and volunteered their time, as a labor of love for the clients of their food pantry, for the members of the church’s Heart-to-Heart adult special needs class, and for the elderly adults connected to the congregation – all of whom were guests for the feast.

“It’s a joy to see our congregation and the community interacting and being the church,” said the Rev. Dr. David Tennant.

“I’m blessed that God has given us this church and this meal so we can celebrate Thanksgiving,” said Tyler Chaffin, who was attending his inaugural community meal at Medina UMC.

“It’s hard to put into words how special this day is because everyone from our youth to our seniors play such a big role in showing the community what this church is about,” said Deanne Donoughe, who coordinated the dining room volunteers.

“This community meal is about more than food, it’s about teaching people how to build relationships.  We ask our volunteers to not only carry food and clean tables but to also sit and spend time talking to our guests because Jesus didn’t just wash feet he also sat and ate meals with people and got to know them,” Herr said.

Gary Fromm is a member of the Heart-to-Heart class and a regular at the meal.  He said, “I like the food and seeing my friends.  The church helps me pray to God.”

This year  235 guests left with full stomachs, a warm heart, and a container of a dozen homemade Christmas cookies, baked by the families of the church’s preschool students.

“As people leave they tell me that they felt God’s presence while they were here for the meal, and that’s what we strive for, for them to feel God’s love,” said Suzanne Shoemaker who greeted people on their way into the church and wished them Happy Thanksgiving as they headed home.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.