Parish hosts annual Thanksgiving meal

Elaine Alicna, left, and Cheri Ellis-Reeves, parishioners of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., took stock of paper products Nov. 14 in preparation for the parish’s annual Thanksgiving meal, which serves hundreds of people. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)
Elaine Alicna, left, and Cheri Ellis-Reeves, parishioners of St. James Church in Elizabethtown, Ky., took stock of paper products Nov. 14 in preparation for the parish’s annual Thanksgiving meal, which serves hundreds of people. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — Today, as many sit down around the family table and dine on roast turkey and warm pumpkin pie, dozens of volunteers from St. James Church are delivering Thanksgiving meals to those in need in Hardin County.

For the 30th year, parishioners of St. James have coordinated, prepared and delivered meals to the homebound and to those who may not otherwise be able to afford a Thanksgiving dinner.

The meal isn’t only for those who need help, but also for those who would otherwise spend the holiday alone. The parish offers the option for individuals and families to dine at St. James School between noon and 2 p.m.

The holiday meal is a collaboration with Helping Hand of Hope, a local non-profit organization; numerous area churches; and other businesses and organizations.

Elaine and A.D. Alicna, long-time St. James parishioners, have volunteered for the event since the parish hosted the first meal in 1986.

“I had always cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my parents and some other family members, but that year, our 12-year-old daughter died in April, and we needed to do something different for the holiday,” Elaine Alicna explained in an interview last week. “We thought, what better thing to do than to help others who would need help or who would have to spend the holiday alone?”

Volunteers spend weeks planning the hundreds of meals they deliver and serve on Thanksgiving Day, said Cheri Ellis-Reeves, one of the organizers of the outreach ministry. About 40 volunteers work the night before Thanksgiving, and about 380 volunteer on Thanksgiving

Day. About 300 of those deliver the meals.

The committee plans to deliver 600 meals throughout the Hardin County area. Last year they delivered about 900.

Volunteers are expecting to serve about 50 dine-in guests at the school, but may see as many as 100, said John Hartlage, another of the meal’s organizers.

The planning committee begins preparations in September, Ellis-Reeves said, and only meets a handful of times “because we’ve done this for so long.”

The serious work begins Wednesday, Ellis-Reeves said, when about 40 people gather at the parish school to organize the next day’s deliveries.

The meals include all the traditional trimmings: roast turkey, dressing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, pie and milk.

“Wednesday night we slice the turkey, cut pies, put lids on the cranberry sauce and tape boxes for delivery,” she said, noting volunteers also decorate tables at St. James School for those who dine-in.

On Thanksgiving Day, Hartlage and a group of volunteers begin packing the first meals around 10:30 a.m. and volunteer drivers start making their deliveries by 11 a.m.

Numerous Hardin County churches are involved in the ecumenical effort, including: First Christian, First Presbyterian, Christ Episcopal, memorial United Methodist, House of Prayer Lutheran, Immanuel Baptist and Northside Baptist churches.

Other area organizations and businesses also take part in the community effort. Culinary students at the Early College and Career Center in Hardin County make the dressing and put it into foil pans ready to be baked by volunteers on Thanksgiving morning. And, Kroger cooks the turkeys for a reduced fee.

Money to purchase the food or food donations are provided by parishioners of St. James and the other Hardin County churches.

Ellis-Reeves noted that many who have received meals in the past have returned to volunteer.

“They want to bake some pies or cookies. Families are so grateful,” she said.

The Alicnas, like many long-time volunteers, said they continue to be involved in the ministry because it’s a way they can give back to the community.

“I feel that we are definitely reaching out to others with this ministry. All you have to see is the thankfulness on some of the people’s faces to know that we are definitely making their day a little brighter,” Elaine Alicna said.

Patti Stith said she and her husband Greg began volunteering in 2000 when their daughters were in preschool.

“We volunteered at first to help our girls see that community service and helping others in need is a wonderful thing to do and helps us worship God,” she said. “We have been blessed in our life and wanted them to see that not all people are as blessed as we are and others need a little extra help and love.”

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