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How one local ministry is giving back at Thanksgiving
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Volunteers with Latin American Missionary Program Ministries prepare free boxed meals for people at Triufantes De Jesucristo Church on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Most people are thinking about being thankful for what they have around this time of year — but Mary Mauricio, she’s focused on giving. 

It’s what she’s used to, and it’s what she’s been doing around Thanksgiving — and pretty much every other day, too —  for the past 18 years.

She’s the executive director of Latin American Missionary Program Ministries, which held its annual community Thanksgiving dinner Saturday in the parking lot of Triunfantes de Jesucristo, a church on Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville. Hundreds of homeless and low-income families came out to get a meal, lining up an hour before the ministry even began serving.

“This is our 18th year,” Mauricio said. “We started on Atlanta Highway and we only had soup and cornbread.” She said the people liked it because the food was warm in the cold weather.

She said they served about 100 people during that first year. 

This year, after just an hour, they had already served over 300.  

Nowadays, those who stop by get a full Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, dressing, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, dessert and a drink.

Kids stood near the street holding signs to get the word out about the food being served. It must have worked because the line that formed was lengthy. Music being played by members of the church echoed as more and more people lined up, waiting in the cool weather for a to-go box of food.

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Mike Mihalick, a volunteer with Latin American Missionary Program Ministries, hands a free boxed meal to Jerimah Nash on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, at Triufantes De Jesucristo Church. - photo by Austin Steele

Mauricio said none of it would have been possible without the help of the community.

Companies from the area donated money for the turkeys. The Georgia Mountain Food Bank donated the desserts. Longstreet Cafe donated the dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Loretta’s Country Kitchen donated the green beans. 

“I’m glad to see that the gathering is as much as it is,” Joey Cleveland said while holding a plastic grocery bag with two boxes of food inside for himself and his wife. “It does help the community out. It lets them know that there are people out here who do care about them during the holidays.”

Cleveland said he’s living in a motel right now, looking for an apartment, so the Thanksgiving meal he got from Lamp Ministries “helps on the food bill.”

Tonya Hagins was there to volunteer, something she’s been doing for the past four years. For her, seeing people from “all walks of life” serving and being served is what makes it all worth it.

She makes it a point to bring her own family to the meal, too, so they’re able to volunteer alongside her.

“This means a lot for me to bring them out here and show them, giving back to the community,” Hagins said. “A lot of kids, they think community service is only for when they’re in trouble … Community service is a part of all of our duties, not just because you’re in trouble. So that’s what I’m teaching my boys. This is what we do. We come out, we give to the community, we do for other people, because we never know when we’re going to be down on our luck.”

As the line began to shorten, Mauricio said any leftover food would be taken out into the community to people who might not have been able to make it to the Thanksgiving meal.

“I never dreamed it would get this big,” Mauricio said. “We want everybody that doesn’t have a Thanksgiving, to know that they have a Thanksgiving meal here.”