My pastor already blogged about our Thanksgiving in a Bag outreach, and you can see a great picture collage on his blog, but I am way too excited about what happened this past Saturday not to share it, too.
Brooke reads Steve Bowen's blog Kindness to Go and saw the idea for Thanksgiving in a Bag there. We have recently started a number of these outreaches where we try to meet needs in a real, practical way showing God's love and meeting people where they are (rather than expecting them to come to the church to receive). The idea behind Thanksgiving in a Bag was simple (as adapted by Vine Fellowship)...the church bought 100 turkeys to give away and challenged each family in the church to fill one bag with groceries (we had a list of things to get...all the stuff for Thanksgiving "fixin's"). We have about 100 families in the church, so this was a big challenge.
I started getting excited when I saw the bags coming in. It looked like we were going to be just a few bags short of our 100, so the church filled a few. And then on the day of the outreach, people brought more, so we had 100 turkeys and around 110 bags of "fixin's".
My excitement continued to build on Saturday. Volunteers were asked to be at the church at 10:00am to help load up tables, tents, chairs, face painting stuff and 100 bags of groceries to head to the park. By 10:10am, over 25 volunteers had shown up and we were packed and ready to head to the park down the street where we were setting up for the outreach. (We had previously handed out door hangers in our "target neighborhood" telling them about the free meal and where we'd be).
We arrived at Deaver Park, unloaded and were ready to go by 10:40am. We had 2 jump houses set up, a registration table, 3 tables loaded with groceries (and more ready to fill the gaps when those were gone), 2 tables loaded with kids socks and underwear that had been donated by church people and a pickup full of ice and 100 turkeys which we got a discount thanks to Kroger grocery stores.
Then the people started coming and things got really exciting! In our last outreach at the park, we did not have a very solid plan for taking time to talk with people and pray with them. We did get to pray for some, and it was good, but we wanted to do better. We have cards that we ask people to fill out when they come. This card has room for a person's name and address, a place to check if they would like to know about upcoming events (our outreaches) and a place to write prayer requests. This time, when people filled out their card, if they marked a prayer request, we had church volunteers offer to pray with them right there. If people put "no thank you" or didn't put anything on their card, we showed them to the groceries, told them we were glad they were there and hung out with them as long as they wanted. But when they marked a prayer request, we prayed with them. We figured we got to pray with almost 90% of the people who came to the park. Several people were still wiping tears from their eyes and they got to the end of the line and got their free turkey...touched that somebody cared enough to feed them and pray with them about their needs.
It was an awesome day! We had great participation from the congregation bringing food, an incredible turnout of volunteers and tremendous opportunities to show God's love in a practical way.
You can view a slide show of the outreach here.