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Thanksgiving prayer: Amid pandemic, faith-based groups work to provide holiday meals

By Catherine Godbey  

For the Enquirer  

In the sanctuary of a small country church in Morgan County, boxes of stuffing, cans of vegetables, packets of instant potatoes and bottles of cooking oil covered the wooden pews as preparation for Thanksgiving began. 

Wheeling a shopping cart filled with jars of peanut butter into the sanctuary, E’dee Grun paused and watched as volunteers with Feeding Families of Alabama sorted the food, which will feed 150 families. While down from the 300 boxes the outreach ministry distributed last year, the 180 boxes this Thanksgiving represent a feat amid the challenges of the coronavirus. 

“We just can’t do 300 boxes this year. Demand has been unreal, and donations are down compared to last year,” said Grun, founder of Feeding Families of Alabama. 

While facing an increase in demand and a decrease in supplies, several north Alabama faith-based churches and faith-based ministries, such as Feeding Families, are working to provide holiday meals for people in need. 

“It’s been a really hard year for everyone, but we are very lucky to live in a generous community. There are 180 families who will have food this holiday season because of the community,” Grun said. 

The food boxes, which Feeding Families distributed Monday, contained canned vegetables, flour, sugar, milk, butter, cornbread mix, instant potatoes, stuffing, coffee, tea, macaroni and cheese, crackers, cooking oil, salt, pepper and cake mix. 

Absent from the boxes was the staple Thanksgiving dinner centerpiece — a turkey. 

“When people talk about Thanksgiving, they get a sparkle in their eyes and envision this beautiful meal on a table. In reality, most of the people we give food to don’t have a dining room table. Some don’t have a freezer or an oven. Even if we gave them a turkey, they couldn’t cook it,” Grun said. “You have to be realistic. These boxes will sustain people for months to come, not just on Thanksgiving.” 

Instead of thinking about a Thanksgiving feast, Grun challenged people to imagine mothers cooking with their children in the households that do have ovens. 

“I don’t get starry-eyed thinking about a turkey. I get starry-eyed thinking about the cookie mix. I just want mamas to be able to make cookies or a cake with their children and have that special time together,” Grun said. “For many of our families, cookie and cake mixes are luxury items, especially this year.” 

Since the coronavirus hit the United States at the beginning of the year, Feeding Families has seen a steady increase in demand. 

“We’ve seen a lot of new faces this year – people who never dreamed they would ask for help, but they have no choice,” Grun said. “Many of them cry. It really bothers them. But that’s why we are here – to help them until they get back on their feet. And you know what? Once they are on their feet, a lot of them come back to volunteer with us or bring food in.” 

Grun said the community noticed the increased need and acted. To help, Melanie Burger opened a Blessing Box food pantry outside her Forever Kate boutique in downtown Hartselle, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ youth collected more than 1,500 pounds of food for Feeding Families. 

With the Thanksgiving boxes complete, Grun’s attention now turns to Christmas. This year, Feeding Families will run a Secret Santa program, in which people can adopt families in need. The organization also will create a Christmas Drive-Thru and decorate the hill surrounding the church with holiday displays and lights. 

“Remember when you were a kid and the best part of Christmas was getting out and looking at the Christmas lights? We want to give all that to the kids this year,” Grun said. Santa will be here, and we will have a live nativity scene. We will also hand out treats, and each child will receive a small bag of inexpensive toys.” 

To donate to Feeding Families, drop off non-perishable food items or inexpensive toys to 373 Mount Tabor Road in Hartselle.