Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Wayland’s Thanksgiving brings community together ‘in a powerful way’

Nov 17, 2017
Photo by: file photo Volunteers in Wayland are preparing for another Thanksgiving feast as the Community Thanksgiving dinner is soon approaching. Event coordinator Alicia Lemon is expecting upwards of 200 dinner guests on Thanksgiving Day. Wayland’s Community Thanksgiving is come and go from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at WACO High School.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


As families plan Thanksgiving in their homes this year, Alicia Lemon was tasked to plan the now 14-year tradition of Wayland’s Community Thanksgiving.

It was back in 2004 when Greg Stacy was starting a church plant in his barn that he was “inspired by God” to further the endeavor by hosting an all-community Thanksgiving. Looking for a neutral location, he approached the WACO Community School District to ask for the use of their high school lunch room and kitchen.

Almost 80 people showed up for that first Thanksgiving, many of whom would have been “eating by themselves alone watching TV” had it not been for the teenagers attending Stacy’s church plant at the time who gave energy to the idea of hosting a community meal.

“They’re all young adults now, but it was the kid who came along and the community who made it more than we anticipated it was going to be the first year,” Stacy said.

The tradition continues. In her second year as event coordinator, Lemon is planning for 200 people arriving at WACO for lunch on Thursday, Nov. 23, coordinating what food the many churches in Wayland and other townships will contribute, and recruiting volunteers to serve.

Stacy said there were three turkeys and one ham at that first community event. Now, the WACO high school kitchen is stocked with six of each and over 100 pounds of mashed potatoes, he said.

Wayland’s Community Thanksgiving extends beyond outreach for those who don’t have anywhere else to go. For some families, this is their family Thanksgiving tradition, arriving with even grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins in tow to enjoy the fellowship and Thanksgiving classics.

Although Stacy oversaw coordination of the event for a number of years, the ownership of the meal now belongs to all of the members in the community. As the event has grown and changed and evolved over the years, Stacy said that it’s different then how he would do it, but he recognizes there isn’t one right way to do something.

“Times change. People change,” Stacy said. “It’s still working. I stepped out because the community was doing it. So I’m trying to figure out what God wants me to do next.”

Although Stacy has other obligations and will be unable to attend the community Thanksgiving this year, he reminisced on the traditional food he looks forward to eating at WACO with friends, family and new acquaintances.

“It’s all homemade. It’s just incredible,” Stacy said. “There’s a few people who make the best corn you could ever imagine. And the green bean casseroles are award-winning. They’re just fantastic.”

The food is provided by people in local congregations who prepare it and bring it to WACO high school. Lemon said she sends out a mass email to all of the local churches asking for volunteers and food donations, always with excellent response.

“I can’t even tell you how many churches are involved, but it seems everyone is participating this year, which is really exciting,” Lemon said.

It’s been five years since Tamara Gill first stepped into a Wayland Community Thanksgiving. As she was facing spending the holiday on her own after moving to Wayland from Ohio to pastor Wayland Mennonite Church, little did she anticipate the warm welcome the community meal would bring.

Like others who find themselves at WACO High School year after year, Gill now volunteers her time by either helping prepare food or delivering meals to people who are homebound and unable to leave their house.

“Even the interactions with shut-ins brings the community together in a powerful way,” Gill said. “I was delivering meals a few years ago and accidentally went to the wrong door. Here, this woman (who answered) was feeling sick that day and ended up not going to her daughter’s house. She didn’t have a meal so I got to deliver a meal for her too.”

Lemon said they deliver about 50 meals to shut-ins or the homebound every year, boxing up the food and sending out runners to deliver it before people arrive for the meal at the high school.

Gill said she saw the outreach in a “really powerful way” a couple years ago when the delivery service was running behind and those who had arrived at WACO for their meal had to wait to be served.

“(People were) getting to talk to one another at a time when they could have said, well, the meal was supposed to have started already,” Gill said. “We were praying together and everyone was so joyful.

“I think that was a time when I really got to see the different groups of people and from different churches coming together and sitting together,” Gill continued. “This has not just become a Thanksgiving meal for those who don’t have anything else to do, but a Thanksgiving meal that brings the whole community together in a powerful way.”

Wayland’s Community Thanksgiving extends beyond the people of Wayland, with congregations from Olds and Crawfordsville joining the mix. After attending the lunch last year, Pastor Rick Zickefoose of Brighton United Church asked that an invitation be extended to his congregation.

“I’m excited to see what’s going to happen this year and what really transpires as being more of a connected joint church effort,” Gill said about Brighton’s contribution to the Thanksgiving meal.

Of course, anyone is welcome to the Thanksgiving meal, regardless of whether they attend a church that is contributing to the meal.

“It’s for anyone who wants to fellowship and eat good food,” Stacy said. “We’ve had a few gentlemen who have come all the way from Ft. Madison. We’ve had people come as far as Van Buren County.”

Leftovers from the meal are either offered back to the church that donated them or donated forward for other church events.

Wayland’s Community Thanksgiving will never remain stagnant. Stacy is hoping to extend the meal to another location next year in partnership with another church.

As for this year’s Thanksgiving meal, Lemon said she is impressed over and over again by the amount of support of food and volunteers for this project.

“That makes me want to do it again and again,” Lemon said. “I never really have a shortage on volunteers. They are remarkable.”

“We just wanted to do something to pay back and help people,” Stacy said. “Not one person deserves credit for this. It’s the entire WACO community.”

Wayland’s Community Thanksgiving is come and go from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at WACO High School. Other community Thanksgivings in Henry County include First United Methodist Church in Mt. Pleasant from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Winfield Presbyterian Church in Winfield from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Salem Friends Church in Salem from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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