Churches, businesses offer free meals on Thanksgiving

UPELO – There’s no such thing as a free lunch – except on Thanksgiving Day in Northeast Mississippi.
Several area churches and businesses are firing up heir ovens to make sure nobody goes hungry this turkey day.
The folks at CrossPointe Ministries know that Thanksgiving is stressful when money is tight. The church’s 600-plus members are about to move into a new worship space on North Eason Boulevard, and they want to share their good fortune with those in need.
CrossPointe isn’t doing the cooking, but the church is happy to supply the groceries. As part of their first “Pay it Forward at the Pointe” event on Nov. 20, starting at 10 a.m. and continuing while supplies last, they’re giving away 250 boxes of Thanksgiving groceries. That includes a turkey and all the fixings, enough to feed four to five people.
Recipients need only bring some form of identification or proof of address so CrossPointe members can follow-up by sending literature about their church.
“Everybody’s had a time in their life when they’ve struggled,” said Ron Cottom, director of media relations at CrossPointe.
“We just want to be a bright spot in somebody’s life that day.”
A little farther west, the center of town will be the staging point for meals going out in all directions on Thanksgiving Day.
Starting at 10:30 a.m. the Salvation Army will serve meals at its Carnation Street headquarters and volunteers will also deliver plates throughout Tupelo and its immediate environs.
Earlier this week, Jennie Lynn Johnson started making dozens of trays of English pea and sweet potato casseroles. It helps to get an early start when you’re feeding an estimated 3,000.
“This is really a city-wide collaboration,” said Johnson, who started making the casseroles for the Army’s big feed in her home in 1972. It’s one more example, she said, of the Salvation Army’s motto, “Heart to God, Hand to Man.”
2010 hasn’t been an easy year for the Salvation Army. Due to lack of donations the organization had to move its thrift store into a smaller building. The Army was also forced to suspended indefinitely its after-school program.
Despite its financial woes, the Army has served more than 57,000 meals this year, 15,000 more than in 2009.
The Thanksgiving meal will cost the Army $5,000, even with the donated food it’s already received. Johnson and company have their groceries, and she said a monetary donation is now the best way people can help.
The Army will partner with Meals On Wheels to make sure shut-ins don’t go hungry. Volunteers will deliver to the intensive care unit at North Mississippi Medical Center as well. They’ll even serve folks who have to work.

Tupelo and beyond
Also canvassing Tupelo on Thanksgiving Day, and driving even farther, into Pontotoc, Itawamba, Prentiss and Union counties, will be volunteers with Christians on the Move to Evangelize, or COME.
This will make the 21st year that COME, a joint effort of six area churches, has delivered food to prisoners, shut-ins and other hungry people.
This year they’ll do their cooking at West Jackson Street Baptist Church in Tupelo. COME volunteers will serve at the church’s kitchen as well as delivering to those who can’t make it out.
Last year COME served 800 people, many of whom they identified with the help of organizations like the Tupelo Housing Authority. Some of the participating churches, like Temple of Compassion and Deliverance in Tupelo, set aside part of their yearly collections to fund the meal. COME also serves at Christmas.
A few miles west, in Sherman, Cravin’ Catfish restaurant will serve turkey and dressing and all the fixings in a free Thanksgiving Day buffet.
Owners Gerald and Becky Hegan, members of Glenfield Baptist Church in Union County, will open their restaurant from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. as their way of expressing their gratitude for the community’s support.
First Baptist Church Pontotoc takes the name of its annual Thanksgiving feed, “Feeding the 5,000,” from Matt. 14, but the Rev. Ken Hester realizes that’s a little ambitious.
“It takes us months to get ready for this thing,” said the church’s senior pastor. “I can’t imagine Jesus doing it on a whim.”
Last year the church served about 3,400.
Volunteers at First Baptist coordinate the efforts of dozens of area churches in delivering meals on Thanksgiving morning. Prisoners, home health patients and, as Hester said, “those who are just down and out,” are some of the folks who get a hot meal.
Starting in the morning, drivers fan out all over Pontotoc County. They get their names and routes by referral from area churches. Folks can still get on the list by calling First Baptist or by going through their own church.
Churches in Okolona are also collaborating to make sure nobody spends Thanksgiving lonely or hungry. Around 10 denominations are collaborating to cook and serve hot meals at the Excel Commons on Main Street.
Sister Liz Brown, Excel’s executive director, said that more than 160 either dined in or had plates delivered last year, and she expects at least that many this year. They’re happy to serve anybody in Okolona or its immediate environs.
“This is a great, ecumenical effort,” said Brown, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. “A great example of people of good will pitching in together to give food and fellowship to anybody who doesn’t have family to be with.”
Folks in Itawamba County who need some hot food and a little companionship on Thanksgiving can find it at Rick’s BBQ and Catering. This will make the eighth year owners Rick and Joni Leathers have opened their kitchen.
The Leathers will partner with the Itawamba County Salvation Army and numerous area sponsors to provide the food. More than 560 hungry folks enjoyed turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes, rolls and desert last year, and Rick Leathers expects even more this go round. Volunteers will start delivering meals all over Itawamba County at 10 a.m., and pickup and dine-ins are welcome at 11.
“This is a lot of fun for us,” said Leathers, who cooks along with his wife and two boys every year. “A lot of people are out of work in Itawamba County, and we’re glad to serve them. But, this is for anybody who is hungry or just doesn’t want to be alone.”

Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com.

For more information
To inquire about having a free meal delivered on Thanksgiving Day, call
- The Salvation Army, 527 Carnation St., Tupelo, 842-9222
- Temple of Compassion and Deliverance, 1148 N. Madison St., Tupelo, 844-0843
- First Baptist Church Pontotoc, 31 W. Washington St., Pontotoc, 489-1346
- Excel Commons, 230 W. Main St., Okolona, 447-2030
- Rick’s BBQ and Catering, 403 W. Main St., Fulton 862-4578
* These organizations are also happy to receive monetary donations, as well as volunteers to help cook, serve and deliver food.

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal