When launched in 1994, free Thanksgiving meals were delivered to 14 local families through the Joanne Jordan Memorial Meal Project. It’s now at more than 300 families annually as the program nears its 20th anniversary.
“We started in a small Sunday school class,” said Woody Jordan, chief organizer of the project operating from First Baptist Church in Mount Airy, which is named for his late mother. “We were sitting around and talking about what we could do to help people.”
The answer was delivering meals on Thanksgiving, and along with bags of turkeys and other items to provide a complete Thanksgiving feast for a family of four to five people, the program serves up smiles.
“Sometimes the holidays aren’t as fun as they should be — we’re trying to put a smile on everybody’s face,” Jordan said. “It should be fun.”
Community Thanksgiving meals requiring recipients to journey to a certain location have become the norm, but the Joanne Jordan Memorial Meal Project has a different approach to reach those in need.
“We’re going to go wherever they are,” Woody Jordan said. “We’re going to find them, and they don’t have to come to us.”
In 2012, 53 different vehicles converged outside the grocery section of Walmart on the afternoon before Thanksgiving Day, for pickups of bags containing turkeys, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls and pumpkin pie for delivery.
“That was the highest that we had,” Jordan said of the distribution system in which each of the 53 vehicles was manned by the driver and someone checking directions to access the list of households on their “routes.”
The 315 families reached among them also set a record for the program, representing nearly 1,260 people. Over the past 19 years 3,125 area families have been served, about 11,750 children and adults.
Due to lingering unemployment and other factors, that could be rivaled this year, according to Jordan, who said the program is made possible with the help of financial and delivery support from other churches and the community at large.
Even though the next round of deliveries isn’t until Nov. 27, folks already are calling wanting to deliver the meals, reflecting a common belief that seeing the smiles on recipients’ faces is well worth the time and effort. “We’ve already had a couple of calls come in from people that are in the area that have never delivered before,” Jordan said.
Some of the delivery teams are longtime regulars. “Out of that, I’d say 10 to 12 have done it every year for 20 years, and they are our church members,” Jordan said in reference to the 53 distribution teams last year. In some cases, their children, who might have grown up and moved away, are making deliveries during their annual visits home for Thanksgiving.
In addition to the Emmanuel Sunday School Class at First Baptist Church, members of other churches and random individuals help with the feeding program, either in the delivery process or by funding meals.
The charitable effort is able to assemble food at a relatively low expense and keep the annual cost down, which means that with a suggested donation of only $27 a supporter can cover the cost of one boxed meal for a family of four to five people. This will be the 16th year that a copy of the New Testament also will be included in each bag of food.
Any extra amounts given are used to buy more meals, with Jordan reminding that all contributions are used for the project and no administrative fees are involved.
Church groups or individuals may donate to the project by sending checks payable to “FBC-Thanksgiving Meals” to First Baptist Church, 714 N. Main St., Mount Airy, NC, 27030, or taking them to the church office.
With both volunteers or church groups welcome to help with the deliveries, those interested can call First Baptist Church at 786-5185 for more details.
The recipients of the food are nominated by school personnel, who might be aware of a family in need, and other sources including the Department of Social Services and The Salvation Army. “A teacher will say, ‘we want to be sure we feed this family,’” Jordan said of a referral example.
“I’ve got about 28 people that send me names.”
They are ranked to ensure that those most in need are served. The names on the list tend to be different from year to year. The recipients are contacted ahead of time, including sending notes home with schoolchildren of families targeted.
In a miraculous kind of way, funding always seems to be in hand to make sure all those on the list receive meals, Jordan added, which might be accomplished with an anonymous church member’s last-minute donation.
“I’m thankful that we can keep doing this,” he said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.