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Under the Bridge Ministry hands out food in Gainesville
J & J Foods President and CEO Darrell Wiley, left, is joined by Antonio Pinedo unloading boxes of food at Lakewood Baptist Church Friday morning as the church joins with Under the Bridge Ministries in giving away 400 boxes of food on Saturday. Each box will contain a Thanksgiving feast for a family of five.

Under the Bridge Ministries

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Although the holiday season is associated with dishes overflowing with food, there are many families in this community who struggle to come up with the basics, much less a bountiful display.

To help families put food on their tables, Under the Bridge Ministries has orchestrated an extensive Thanksgiving feast giveaway for this afternoon.

"We’ll be giving away about 400 boxes of food. We’re figuring for five members in each family, so about 2,000 people will be affected by this outreach," said Josh Everett, Under the Bridge volunteer.

"The boxes will include all of the Thanksgiving favorites like ham, vegetables and pie. Anything you’d want to eat for Thanksgiving."

Instead of setting up shop in one location and inviting people to come to them, Under the Bridge will be going out to four different neighborhoods in Gainesville.

"We’ve identified areas around the city where some residents need assistance in various ways," Everett said.

"These are communities that we serve on a weekly basis. We already know a lot of families there and they’re used to seeing us, so it just makes sense."

The only stipulation for the giveaway is that only one box goes to each family.

"We’re going to set up a tent, give those that want it a box of food and try to encourage them and just love on them," Everett said.

"That’s it."

Realizing that people need assistance the other 51 weeks of the year, Under the Bridge volunteers regularly distribute food to those in need.

"We get a lot of donations from the Chattahoochee Baptist Association. Once a week, we’ll go out and distribute food," Everett said.

"While we’re there, what invariably happens is we have the opportunity to minister to people. We’ll come across someone who is going through a hard time and needs some encouragement. Meeting people’s physical needs allows us the opportunity to meet their spiritual needs as well."

The food for today’s giveaway was purchased by four local churches — Lanier Hills, Concord Baptist, The Torch at Northside and Lakewood Baptist. Volunteers gathered early this morning at each of the churches to assemble the food boxes.

Pulling off such a large giveaway required a strong network of more than 100 helpers.

"We really want to thank J & J Foods for their involvement in handling all of the food that will be distributed," Everett said.

"They ordered all of the food for us and helped get it in the right places, so we could assemble the packages."

Under the Bridge was started in 2010 by Jason Ladd.

"He started ministering to the homeless in Gainesville and some of those people lived under the Queen City (Parkway) bridge, so that’s where the name came from," Everett said.

"It’s grown a lot since then, from one man to multiple volunteers and support from several churches."

Although it has an established relationship with people in certain communities, the group also ventures out into new territory.

"Sometimes we just go out to meet people and build relationships, then it evolves from there," Everett said.

"We meet people who want to get out of where they are and help them put the pieces of the puzzle together so they can. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking them to get a birth certificate or driver’s license. We also help them get housing and find employment opportunities."

Though today’s food giveaway will impact many people in the community, Under the Bridge volunteers say there’s always more work that needs to be done and more room for volunteers.

"This outreach event is a great example of what can happen when local churches come together for the sole purpose of loving God and loving their neighbor," Everett said.

"When this is the focus, there’s no limit to what God can do through his people."