No matter what your Thanksgiving plans were Thursday, Mitchell Wesleyan Church had a place for you at the table.

The church, along with the Breaking Bread Ministries organization, again hosted its annual public Thanksgiving meal, offering in-house dining and meal delivery during one of the most cherished family holidays of the year.

The meal is a chance for those who may not have large family groups with which to celebrate the holidays to get out and experience some friendliness and fellowship.

“(The public) really enjoys it because it’s no fun when it’s just the two of you, a husband and wife, and you can’t see family. Here they can sit at a table and meet new and old friends,” said Aimee Nebelsick, a volunteer with Breaking Bread Ministries.

The annual meal, now in its eighth year, featured a free meal with all the fixings, including potatoes, stuffing, gravy and a variety of other traditional fare. The meal is free to the public with free will donations welcomed by the church.

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Hundreds of guests made their way into the fellowship hall at Mitchell Wesleyan Church Thursday for the annual Thanksgiving meal put on the by the church and Breaking Bread Ministries. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)
Hundreds of guests made their way into the fellowship hall at Mitchell Wesleyan Church Thursday for the annual Thanksgiving meal put on the by the church and Breaking Bread Ministries. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

“We’re really excited to be able to have people in house again this year. Last year with COVID-19 we changed things up a little bit. We had a lot of contactless pickup at the church, which went well,” said Aimee Nebelsick, a volunteer with Breaking Bread Ministries, which partners with Mitchell Wesleyan Church to host the event. “This year we’re doing that again for people so that’s available.”

The event has been embraced by the public since the beginning, with hundreds of meals prepared each Thanksgiving. Nebelsick said over 2,000 meals were served or delivered last year, and she estimated that number should remain steady for this year with the threat of COVID-19 less serious than it was a year ago at this time.

“We were kind of expecting high numbers last year because of COVID-19 and a lot of people weren’t traveling, but we did plan for 2,400 meals that year. But so far it’s looking like around 1,700 meals for this year,” Nebelsick said.

The fellowship hall Thursday at the church was filled with the sound of warm conversation and laughter along with the sight and scents that go together so well with Thanksgiving. Those enjoying the meal ranged in age from the elderly to toddlers, as did the volunteers who make up the bulk of the staff getting food into the hands of the masses. Nebelsick said about 100 volunteers make up the primary workforce in getting the event rolling each year.

Alyvia Herman, right, serves up food to Shirley and and Gale Simon, left, Thursday during the annual Thanksgiving meal at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)
Alyvia Herman, right, serves up food to Shirley and and Gale Simon, left, Thursday during the annual Thanksgiving meal at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

In addition to giving their time to the cause, volunteers and local businesses also make donations of food or supplies to the meal, allowing organizers to help offset the costs of preparing food for so many individuals.

In addition, volunteers make up the force that delivers the Thanksgiving meals to homes and businesses around the Mitchell area.

“We have 25 routes that we have to do, and that’s not counting Meals on Wheels, which we do as well,” Nebelsick said.

In the end, the meal is a nice way for church members and other volunteers and to give back to the community. It melds nicely with the themes of thanks and giving that naturally come with the holiday. She knows for some, this meal may be the only real chance they get to have that group meal feeling that often otherwise comes at family members’ homes.

On Thanksgiving at Mitchell Wesleyan Church, everyone is considered at home.

“Everybody knows somebody sitting at home that can’t make an entire turkey for themselves or mashed potatoes. Who wants to bake a whole pie for themselves?” Nebelsick said. “It can be lonely around the holidays, and here everybody gets a little fellowship and some delicious food.”

There is plenty to do for workers at the event. Greeters wait inside the main entrance to offer welcomes to those coming through the doors while other volunteers move back and forth between the parking lot and the church, bringing in pies ready to be cut and plated. Youth of all ages stand ready to hand out drinks to thirsty visitors.

Volunteers of all shapes, sizes and ages were busy Thursday helping out with the annual Thanksgiving meal at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)
Volunteers of all shapes, sizes and ages were busy Thursday helping out with the annual Thanksgiving meal at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

Around the corner from the fellowship hall, Larae DeLine and her mother, Donna, were minding one of the pie stations right after the noon meal rush. Donna, a member of the church, said working at the Thanksgiving meal has become a tradition that her family is not likely to give up on anytime soon.

“My husband helped with it way back when it wasn’t at the church, and then we were gone for a few years, but we came back in 2014 and we’ve helped with it since then,” DeLine said. “With our family, it’s our tradition to serve on Thanksgiving and then we’ll usually do our Thanksgiving on a Friday or Saturday.”

Like Nebelsick, she said giving up the traditional Thanksgiving Thursday is easy when the alternative is to bring some warmth into the holiday for those who may be seeking it.

Lerae DeLine, age 7, proudly helped with pie organization and serving Thursday at the annual meal held at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. The church, along with Breaking Bread Ministries, has made the event a new tradition for some community members. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)
Lerae DeLine, age 7, proudly helped with pie organization and serving Thursday at the annual meal held at Mitchell Wesleyan Church. The church, along with Breaking Bread Ministries, has made the event a new tradition for some community members. (Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic)

It’s all part of expressing God’s love, something everyone could use more of, especially around the holiday season. And what better time to do that than Thanksgiving at your church?

“I enjoy serving and showing God’s love to other people and just letting them know that somebody does love them,” DeLine said.