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Thanksgiving brings out volunteers to distribute meals
Large volunteer turnout made at inaugural church meal
Shannon DeWitt, right, fills a to-go tray for Ben Lancaster Thursday morning at First Baptist Church during their inaugural Thanksgiving Day meal for the public.

It was a day of giving, of service and of fellowship.

People turned out in droves.

They probably had casseroles to make, pies to prepare and turkeys to go in their own ovens at home. Instead, nearly 100 volunteers from various churches flocked Thursday to First Baptist Church Gainesville for an inaugural, free holiday meal.

Sponsored by Georgia Mountain Food Bank and the North Georgia Community Foundation, multiple churches in the area teamed up to provide a Thanksgiving meal to those in need.

“We all just said, ‘Let’s do this,’” said Kent Murphey, associate pastor at First Baptist Church. “Let’s do this food distribution and invite anybody to come.”

The churches were asked to announce the event and round up volunteers. Murphey said it became clear quickly that they weren’t sure how many people would come to eat, but plenty would come help.

“We prepared 1,000 meals and we knew we could use unused meals later in the week,” Murphey said. “So we basically said, ‘Let’s prepare 600, let’s roll over several hundred, and if we have a high demand we can get more out here.”

Murphey said he was “really not surprised” by the great turnout of volunteers, but it required a change of plans.

“We realized we didn’t have people coming in from the community in the volume that we thought might happen,” he said. “So we quickly came up with a new plan.”

Several churches had vehicles at First Baptist to shuttle church youth groups and volunteers. These vehicles were quickly packed up with meals to go to local apartment complexes.

“We said, ‘Let’s turn the serving lines into assembly lines and let’s make a whole bunch of takeout meals,’” Murphey said. “It was kind of a punt plan, but we had the help to do it and felt it was a good thing to do.”

Meanwhile, volunteers continued to serve meals to the families that could come by.

Abit and Kayanne Massey visited to pick up food for a stranger.

Kayanne Massey said she told a Terminix worker who came by their home Wednesday about the event, and she asked him if he knew anyone who was lonely and might need a meal.

“And he said, ‘Yes, actually,’” she said. “One of his customers is older and lonely, and so we got his name and we’re bringing him some food.”

Along with a hot meal, some families in need were provided a box of nonperishable foods. Kayanne Massey said the churches had been collecting canned foods for weeks leading up to the event.

Abit Massey said he was impressed by the turnout from the community to give back on Thanksgiving Day. He and his wife started their day at Good News at Noon, which also had a large volunteer turnout.

“All these people in here working, it’s so good,” Abit Massey said. “It’s a great day.”

Murphey said the churches will meet to discuss how to improve the event for next year. He called Thursday a day of both “giving and discovering.”

“It’s a year of discovery,” he said. “What we’ve discovered is we have a whole lot of willing volunteers in this community. We have so many people to make contributions or help pay for the food. Now it’s really about getting this food to the people. We’ll learn from this for next year, but we know we’ll always have the volunteers and the interest from people willing to help.”

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