Parish’s Thanksgiving ministry aids those in need, celebrates God’s gifts

Volunteers Veloris Tobin, left, and Peggy Trabue wrapped baskets full of traditional Thanksgiving fare in plastic wrap in preparation for delivery Nov. 19 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. The parish collected and distributed 60 holiday food baskets. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Family resource coordinators for Jefferson County Public Schools and others were giving thanks last weekend for Thanksgiving meal kits distributed by Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, 1545 Louis Coleman Jr. Dr.

“The Lord hears my call and generally I can get” what people need, said Michelle Houston, coordinator of the Family Resource Center at McFerran Preparatory Academy. “Food scarcity has been a major one this year.”

Houston stopped by Immaculate Heart of Mary Nov. 19, one of her days off, to pick up several boxes of Thanksgiving fare for families in need. One family she works with has been without water service for two months. Homelessness among her students is growing, too, she said.

“I just pray these families find relief,” she said, adding that the Thanksgiving dinners will help.

Gathered the morning of Nov. 19 in 20-degree weather, about 20 Immaculate Heart of Mary parishioners received a blessing from Father Christopher S. Rhodes, pastor, before distributing more than 60 holiday meals. Some meals were picked up and others were delivered by volunteers.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church volunteers prayed as their pastor, Father Christopher S. Rhodes, blessed them Nov. 19 in the parish hall. The volunteers then spent the morning distributing 60 Thanksgiving meal kits to families in need. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

The meal kits contained a variety of traditional fare — corn, yams, cranberry sauce, green beans, stuffing mix and more. Each also included a gift card to purchase meat.

Valerie Johnson, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary’s social concerns committee and a retired school social worker, said the food baskets go to those most in need.

“It’s a way to make sure we get the mothers and the kids,” she said. “We intentionally try to get people who might get overlooked.”

The parish’s Thanksgiving collection is in its 25th year or so, Johnson estimates. She is the best to judge, other parishioners said, because she started the ministry.

Ashia Powell, who is part of the next generation of church leaders, chairs the committee now. She was amazed by the parish’s response.

“The church has done tremendously this year,” she said. “We usually do 40 or 45. This year we had 60” meals.

The parish even had more delivery volunteers than needed.

Dillard Baker Jr., left, helped Michelle Houston load Thanksgiving meal kits into her car Nov. 19 outside Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. Houston said food scarcity is an issue for students she works with in JCPS. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Powell noted that the parish is trying to get back to normal since the pandemic disrupted so much of parish life. That may account for the overwhelming response, she said.

During the pandemic, the meals were distributed by five volunteers via a drive-through line at the parish and by porch drop-off.

This year was more hands-on and the parish response was overwhelming, she said.

“We’ve been keeping our distance to keep people healthy,” Powell noted. “A lot of people are ready to get back to normalcy, a sense of community.

“From the beginning, this has been about giving to the community and celebrating how good God has been to us,” Powell said. “I love it.”

Powell said she took the helm of social concerns a couple of years ago after she lost her job.

“I was going through all that, but I was able to be really active” at the parish, she said, noting that the parish became a Dare to Care distribution site in 2020.

She has since found another job, but now she makes room for both.

“I love giving back and helping people,” she added. “My grandparents helped establish a lot of stuff in this church. It’s kind of my ode to them.”

In addition to the Thanksgiving meal ministry, the social concerns committee hosts an AA group, hosts Dare to Care on the second Thursday of each month and holds a monthly “Benevolent Collection” to assist people in need.

Valerie Johnson, a member of the social concerns committee at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, and Dillard Baker Jr. gestured as they coordinated the distribution of Thanksgiving meals at the parish Nov. 19. The parish collected and distributed 60 holiday food baskets. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

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