What started as an idea to serve a free Thanksgiving dinner to the needy in the community turned into an outreach mission that touched nearly 350 guests in one day. Driven by our desire to help our neighbors in need of a little tender, loving care, the church family at Advance Memorial United Methodist Church (Ashland District) in Flatwoods, Kentucky held our first “Love Your Neighbor Lunch” on Valentine’s Day 2009.
We invited anyone in Boyd and Greenup counties who was struggling to feed and clothe themselves or their families to come enjoy a hot meal served by the church’s catering crew, the Kitchen Canaries. After eating, we invited guests to select clothing from the children’s clothing closet and to pick up a bag of household and toiletry items from The Storehouse. Since many of the invited guests had no transportation, the church provided rides to and from the event for approximately 60 guests.
Although this lunch was originally a Council on Ministries idea, it quickly became an event to which our entire congregation of approximately 200 contributed. Once the congregation had committed to this mission, we reached out and invited the local business community to become involved. The resulting 19 corporate sponsors contributed goods, such as personal hygiene items for the storehouse and food for the meal; services, such as advertising; and funding to cover the cost of additional items needed.
As the event began to take shape, the scope of the outreach grew. Because of the generous donations from the congregation and the community, 72 medical vouchers worth $10.00 each were distributed to the guests. Goodie bags filled with small symbols of God’s love and with information about Advance and The United Methodist Church were given to 200 men and women. These bags also included personal size toiletry items such as soap and shampoo. These goodie bags were in addition to the bags of household items and toiletry items given out in The Storehouse. The Storehouse goods were items that most all families need but can’t be purchased with food stamps (EBT card).
The entire Family Life Center at Advance was beautifully decorated to honor our guests. Several local agencies that offer assistance to those in need took advantage of this opportunity to reach new clients by having displays in the dining area. The awarding of nearly 40 donated door prizes added to the party-like atmosphere. The many children present were entertained by Felix the Clown and his amazing balloon creations. There was also a table of craft activities for those children so inclined. A treat for all in attendance was a performance by The Singing Kernels, a local musical group specializing in barbershop harmonies. The Kernels were dressed in their Valentines Day best – black dress jackets with bright red vests.
Perhaps most important for some of our guests was the prayer that was offered on their behalf. Prayer request cards were placed at each dining table. Guests could fill these cards in and place them in box or hand them to a host. Some hosts were blessed to be asked to pray at the dining table for a guest’s concern. By the close of the Saturday event, guests had filled in 105 prayer request cards. At the following Sunday evening service, the cards were divided between small groups of the congregation. The Sunday evening service closed with each small group lifting up in prayer the needs listed on each prayer card. The prayer cards are being sent to the Upper Room Prayer Room, where they will again be lifted up in prayer.
The challenge now for the congregation at Advance is how to follow up with what we have learned through this event. How do we continue to show Christ’s love to the guests that attended this event? We are planning a second Love Your Neighbor Lunch, possibly in May or August, but we know there is more work to do. Yes, there are physical needs that we can help meet. These physical needs come with hurting hearts that need to be shown about our Father’s healing love. We pray that through the Love Your Neighbor Lunch, our guests can see Christ’s love through us.