(Photo: Saddleback Church)
Churches across the United States are ramping up their existing ministries for the homeless and needy this week by making sure to provide food and fellowship in order to reflect God's love.
In Hollywood, Calif., volunteers from one church plan to meet with a homeless ministry at a comedy club on Sunset Boulevard on Thanksgiving Day to share a meal together with people from the transient-filled area of Los Angeles known as the Skid Row. At a church in North Carolina, women have already met with the members of families in transition to cook Thanksgiving meals together side by side.
Twice this week before Thanksgiving Day, One Church International in Los Angeles will have already held an outreach to the people of Skid Row that includes providing food, clothing, and prayer at a North Hollywood location.
The event at the Laugh Factory comedy club is more about "breaking bread together" than the homeless simply being served, say leaders from OCI's "As One Ministry."
"We will not be serving food, but rather getting to know our new friends that are currently displaced in Hollywood. The point of this outreach is to create a family setting to those who are without, and to make everyone feel loved," state leaders from the church that recently moved closer to the city's homeless population.
"Now that the church has moved to our new home in West Hollywood, there is an even greater need to reach out to our brothers and sisters who live on the streets," said Touré Roberts, pastor of One Church International. "There is a blessing in serving the poor and outcast, and I believe our homeless outreach will continue to expand to meet the needs of the community."
At Elevation Church in the Charlotte area of North Carolina, Pastor Steven Furtick's wife, Holly, met with 40 women on Monday to pack 200 grocery bags with meals for families in need near the church's Matthews location. The meals went to serve 561 people in the community by way of outreach partner Matthews Help Center.
More than 20 volunteers from Elevation partnered with another ministry to cook a Thanksgiving meal side-by-side with families in transition.
"Another 60-plus volunteers will cook and serve a Thanksgiving meal alongside our outreach partner One7 on Thursday," said the church's communication and outreach director, Tonia Bendickson. "About 20 more volunteers worked with Hope Cancer Ministry to deliver Thanksgiving meals this week. Some of our volunteers signed up to serve with Samaritan House this week to celebrate Thanksgiving with neighbors. And still more signed up with Charlotte Rescue Mission."
Bendickson added, "That's a snapshot of what we're doing all over our city this week. When I tally up the impact it appears our outreach efforts this week will easily play a role in feeding more than 1,061-plus people locally. But if you take a broader view, the people of Elevation Church have given more than $2 million this year alone ($6.9 million over the life of our church) to serve the needs of people served by our outreach partners all year around. That means we are helping people in Haiti, Ecuador, the U.S. and Canada, Africa and beyond today and every day."
On Thanksgiving Day, in addition to several other projects, more than 200 volunteers led by a motel (families in transition) ministry from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., will serve 700 meals at nine locations throughout Orange County.
"We'll share food, provide a short worship service, inspirational message, and pray for those seeking hope," said ministry leader Max McGhee. "During this special day of giving, God will fill our hearts and fill their bellies."
More than 1,500 shopping bags were filled with items from a Thanksgiving "grocery list" by members of Longhollow Baptist Church in Tennessee. The bags were filled with holiday dinner ingredients and cash for turkeys, church member Jon Wilke told The Christian Post.
The bags were already distributed to local families, many of which included single mothers.
"Our church is known for its creative outreach to single mothers. We do a special outreach called The Gift in early December," Wilke said.
Earlier this month, church volunteers and staff from The Potter's House in Dallas participated in the city's Feast of Sharing where more than 9,000 people were fed.
The church led by Bishop T.D. Jakes is also involved in several Thanksgiving projects, including giving food to more than 350 struggling families at donation sites that included shelters for victims of abuse (women and children) and a dialysis center.
For many churches, including One Church International, the holiday provides an opportunity to also deliver the Gospel message. On Thanksgiving evening, the church will "open the doors and invite the community in for praise and worship."
"There will be live music with worship leaders as well as prayers and interceders. We want to bless the community through prayer and encouragement. Also, we want to take the time to invite everyone to get to know Christ in a new way or for the first time," church leaders stated. "We will have some items of food, clothing and Bibles to hand out. But the main focus of this outreach is prayer, worship and praise. People have so much to be thankful for and we're excited to create the atmosphere for them to do so."
McGhee, who is also on staff at the 20,000-member Saddleback Church led by Pastor Rick Warren, told CP that he's asking for "people to pray for a successful day for all of us out in the harvest field."