WASHINGTON - "This year as we observe our season of thanksgiving, let us be grateful not only in word but also in deed," said evangelist Billy Graham in a Thanksgiving message.
Missions across the country are putting Graham's words to action this week, reaching out to hundreds and up to tens of thousands of poor persons at a time with Thanksgiving meals.
Here's Life Inner City, the urban ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, International, is sending out some 18,550 food-filled boxes through local churches and organizations to bring holiday cheer to the hungry. The packaged "Boxes of Love" are enough to feed more than 111,300 people in the United States.
"I didn't want to take my Saturday to do it and I was pretty hard-headed about it. But when I got there and saw what was happening, I was just overwhelmed, said Mike Whaley, who helped package the boxes. "Helping the Boxes of Love project was the most awesome experience I've ever had. People from all types of backgrounds and cultures were united by compassion and their desire to help the hungry. To think I almost missed it because I wanted to go to a yard sale!"
The need in America has seemingly grown as Washington Redskins football players saw a larger turnout of families this year, lining up around NFL's largest stadium in Landover, Md., for a bag of food. Harvest Feast, sponsored by the Washington Redskins and Operation Blessing, distributed bundles of food to nearly 20,000 people on Tuesday.
Last year, around 15,000 people received food at the event. The allotted food totaled 32,000 pounds of turkey and 120,000 pounds of fresh and packaged food.
"We can never do enough of this," said Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder, according to The Washington Post.
In Downtown Los Angeles, streets were closed off Wednesday to feed thousands of homeless. The meals were served by Hollywood celebrities, politicians and local volunteers at Los Angeles Mission.
While Thanksgiving meals are mainly served up a day or two in advance of the holiday so that volunteers could spend the holiday with the family, one local mission group in Washington scheduled its outreach dinner on the actual holiday.
"When we sit around our tables laden with sumptuous delicacies, let us not forget that nearly a billion people around the world will go to bed hungry," said Graham. "As we enjoy the comforts of our cozy homes, let us not forget that great numbers have no homes to go to."
Central Union Mission will be providing overnight beds and serving some 200 meals to the homeless and the general public Thursday evening. Rather than trimming the turkey at the house, Executive Director David O. Treadwell has been bringing his family to the mission center to share their holiday meal with the needy.
"This is what ministry is all about," commented Treadwell. "If your heart goes out to the homeless, this is part of my family."
The 123-year-old mission group has distributed meals two or three days consecutively during Thanksgiving week, including Thanksgiving Day. Outreach days were pushed to Wednesday and Tuesday to adjust to the holiday schedule of volunteers and donors who travel out of town.
This year, however, they're putting all their eggs in one basket, as Treadwell described it, and opening the center to the public only on Thanksgiving Day.
"Only the most hardcore of the homeless don't have anywhere to go on Thanksgiving Day," he said. "We're trying to encourage the people who do stay in town to ... share with and encourage the truly hardcore homeless people."