For many years Debbie Manasco has orchestrated a church Thanksgiving meal at her Wichita South church. But 2020 was different. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large feast to feed the whole church in a social act of thanksgiving for God’s blessings and fellowship to kick off the holiday season was out of the question.

Rather than just scrapping the meal tradition this year, Debbie decided to bring the food to those who have missed church fellowship entirely—our shut-ins and other folks who are too vulnerable to infection to be around friends and family at church. Getting the meal cooked and organized for distribution required a logistical adjustment for Debbie and her helpers. “This year was different, involving precautions I don’t usually think about. The older people needed to know we were being careful, that they didn’t need to worry about infection,” she said. The 23 meals were prepared at Debbie’s home, where she could control sanitation thoroughly. She then packaged each in containers to keep the food clean and portable.

Although the planning was more involved than her usual potluck-style Thanksgiving feast in the church fellowship hall, the quality and style of the menu remained traditional and delicious. “We served all the usual Thanksgiving treats: veggie turkey loaf with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and Hawaiian rolls. Then four other church ladies came through with pie and cranberry salad to complete the festive flair.”

The only element missing from the usual menu was hot apple cider, which wouldn’t transport easily. Along with a warm meal, each bag was packed on Sabbath with an original piece of themed artwork, and personal note from church kids and Wichita Adventist Christian Academy students from Ms. Heidi Beardsley’s class. Once the bags were packed, each was sent to its destination via a volunteer couple or family from our church—wearing masks of course—to make the personal delivery, along with conversation and prayer.

“It was really special for our girls to help with a service activity that brings the focus off of ourselves while fostering that church family warmth,” says Stevie Cowgill, who delivered one of the bags with her husband, Curtis, and two daughters Nora and Charlotte. “It is easy to feel really stressed during this pandemic, and I know it’s been isolating for lots of people in different ways, so we were just thankful to have a chance to spread cheer, and pray for a member my girls know from church and miss getting to see while things are far from normal.”

Overall, Debbie was so pleased that more members volunteered to deliver bags than they even had need for, signaling that her project spread its impact beyond even sharing a tasty dinner. From the kids who colored and made cards to the families who drove around Wichita to get the bags delivered while the food was still warm, this was truly a Thanksgiving project that involved the whole church family at Wichita South.

In the following weeks those who received the meals flooded Debbie with kind responses. “Everybody was so sweet and sent thank you notes for being remembered over the holiday. It was certainly worth the work and effort on everyone’s part.”

Whitni Carlson serves as Family Life ministry director at Wichita South Adventist Church in Wichita, Kansas.