MICHIGAN CITY – At the Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church Fellowship Center, Mother Mary Garner sat near the door on Thanksgiving, enjoying a holiday meal and greeting others who came to enjoy.
"Mother Mary started this all in her home about 40 years ago," said Megan Adkins, part of a new generation which has carried on the tradition of Michigan City Holiday Meals since Garner retired.
"We use donations and volunteers and fundraisers to serve about 450 people on Thanksgiving," Adkins said. "We also serve meals on Christmas and Easter, and everyone is welcome to come it and enjoy the fellowship or take out meals to enjoy at home."
It's no easy process, she said.
"We've been here since about 3 a.m. getting ready," Adkins said.
Food is prepared in two kitchens, one in the church at 10th and Maple, and one in the adjacent Fellowship Hall, which will be the new home of the meals, formerly served at the Michgian City Housing Authority.
Adkins was at it long before – she drives to Arkansas every year to bring back sweet potatoes from a large farm warehouse for the Thanksgiving meal, which is the biggest.
"Thanksgiving and Christmas are big meals with everything included, while Easter is a lighter meal," she said.
The organization also delivers meals to the sick, elderly and others who can't make it, Adkins said.
"Michigan City Police officers help us out with the deliveries. They were here earlier to pick up and deliver about 200 meals," she said.
It's a lot of work and a lot of time, but she said, "No one should be without a good meal on the holidays," and the volunteers for the non-profit are "glad to do it. There's a lot of love involved and it's wonderful to see such a great turnout as we keep Mother Garner's dream alive."
Over on the west side, Mother Hattie Jackson was running things at the Revival Center Church of God in Christ on West 8th Street, where a group of volunteers was serving the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
The church, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in February, serves anywhere from 75-100 people every year, then sends whatever is left to nearby homeless shelters and senior centers so nothing goes to waste, she said.
The volunteers know the drill as the Revival Center also serves up free meals for the community every Tuesday, Jackson said.
"We get a few donations to help out, but most of the food comes from the benevolence of the churth and its members," she said while preparing a carry-out meal. "We send out a few letters asking for donations, but even if we don't get any, we just do it."
Meals are also delivered to those who can't make it to the church, or who work on the holiday and can't make it in during serving hours, she said.
"No one should be hungry, especially not on Thanksgiving," said Jackson, who's grateful for the help of volunteers and church members, including Rebecca Barns, who prepared cakes, pies, cranberry sauce, dressig, and macaroni and cheese.
"It's a lot of work to put all this together, but we do it gladdingly," Adkins said. "I don't know if that's a real word, but that's the way we feel about doing this."
Temerity Boutique hosted its second annual Thanksgiving meal Thursday. Last year's meal was open to veterans and the homeless, but in 2019, it was expanded to include the entire community. Dozens of people chose to dine in, but the majority of meals were delivered.
Antonio Conley, founder of Temerity, along with friends, family members and co-workers, spent weeks preparing for this year's event; and they stayed up cooking turkey and all the fixings into the wee hours of Thursday morning.
"It's important to me to do this because I was once that kid who utilized food pantries and soup kitchens," Conley said. "My mom was a single parent; and when times were rough, it was nice to know we could depend on a warm meal from events like this."
High Praise Outreach Ministries on East 9th Street opened its doors to the Temerity crew and guests Thursday. They also offered blessing bags stocked with essentials like deodorant, toothbrushes and warm socks for any guest who could use them.
"We are grateful for the blessing that God has given us, and we realize that it's bigger than us," said Felicia Blakely, first lady at High Praise.
"He's given us all this space in such a great area to give back to our community. So, when we heard what they were doing, we said, 'God has blessed us with this church, but it's yours, too, because you're part of the community. Whatever you're giving back to the community, we're here as an asset to help you.'"
And as it does every Thanksgiving, the Salvation Army of Michigan City invited the public in for food and fellowship.
Major Becky Simmons said just shy of 200 meals were delivered and almost as many were served in-house Thursday.
The Rotary Club of Michigan City donated the turkeys and hams, which Blue Chip Casino prepared. Local chef Erik Tannehill came in early Thursday morning and spent hours cooking up the sides. And volunteers worked in shifts to set up, serve and deliver meals, and clean up after the event.
"The whole purpose of the Salvation Army is to meet community need," Simmons said. "So, it's really our mission to be available in those key times when people are in need.
"I think one of the things you don't necessarily see in pictures is that the biggest group we serve is those who are shut-ins and homebound. We work cooperatively with other programs in town to make sure that the population they aren't able to serve on Thanksgiving Day receives a holiday meal. We really want to make sure that those who are homebound are not forgotten."