Franklin Graham and the Evangelical disaster relief organization Samaritan’s Purse will serve free lunch Friday to as many as 4,000 people impacted by a deadly tornado that struck Mayfield, Kentucky, earlier this month.
Known for aiding those impacted by the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and global conflicts, Samaritan’s Purse launched relief operations earlier this month in the wake of deadly tornadoes impacting six states. More than 1,600 volunteers have responded and helped over 350 families across Kentucky and Arkansas.
At the Dec. 24 charity feast, the organization plans to help even more families by giving away gifts and serving a free Christmas meal consisting of traditional pies, roast turkey and baked ham. The event will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Graves County High School in Mayfield.
Across Kentucky, as many as 76 people died as four tornadoes struck the state on Dec. 10. In Mayfield, much of which was destroyed, officials say at least 22 people died, including nine when a candle factory collapsed and trapped dozens.
Graham, Samaritan Purse’s president and son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, who is also an evangelist, will share a message of encouragement and will be joined by bluegrass and country musician Ricky Skaggs, who will play Christmas music.
“Everyone is welcome to come. We want the people of this hard-hit region to know that we love them and God loves them,” Graham said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. “So many people are hurting and discouraged. They need hope, and Christmas is about the hope that is offered to all of us through the birth of God’s Son Jesus Christ.”
Samaritan’s Purse sent dozens of staff and three cooking trailers to Mayfield to prepare the free hot meals on Christmas Eve.
“Families literally lost everything just before Christmas, and knowing that Christmas would be different, we knew that we couldn’t replace things or fix it right away, but we knew we could love them in the midst of their pain,” Kendra Bandy, Samaritan’s Purse's podcast production manager, said in a podcast on the organization’s website. “So we wanted to bring some joy to this community.”
Bandy said that with less than a week’s notice, the food services team at Samaritan’s Purse started planning the entire Christmas lunch.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” she said.
“We don’t want just to provide physical relief, we want to truly love on and minister to people in their time of need,” Bandy continued. “And we’ve never done anything quite like this. … And so this is crazy and nearly an impossible feat. … We are trusting God.”
A podcast team member named Melissa and Andy Jeter, the charity’s director of food services, shared their thoughts on the Christmas Eve lunch.
“We work for someone who is an incredible visionary. … Franklin Graham, he surprises us with these plans sometimes,” Melissa shared. “But, [Graham] just has a vision for helping these people and he knew that they would be hurting, that people would not have the same kind of Christmas that they normally would and so it was just something that the Lord put on his heart to do.”
“We talked to Franklin, and we didn’t know at that time what the number would be, but very soon, he made that evident that he was thinking big, which we like, but now we’ve got the fun part of figuring out the logistics of that and working through details and getting food procured,” Jeter added.
Melissa said the devastation caused by the tornado in Mayfield has been “catastrophic.”
“It’s easy to look at pictures when they’re on social media [to see] what the devastation looks like, but for my own eyes to see it … it took it to a whole different level,” Jeter said. “And to just see people just kind of walking around almost in a daze still, and you know it’s a week after it took place and you can see the confusion on their face, like ‘what do we do next?’”
“It’s neat to be a part of something that is going to minister to them directly — of course their stomachs — but also speakers and music and everything … that we can love on these people,” he continued.