A lot of people feed a crowd at Thanksgiving, but Bishop John Birmingham of Kansas City has taken it to a new level.
By SARA BEANE
Special to The Star
Every year, the 65-year-old Birmingham, who runs Harvest Connection Ministries in Kansas City, helps provide an early Thanksgiving dinner to hundreds in need. And during his most recent dinner at Milestone Youth Center in Kansas City, Birmingham and his 88-year-old mother, Mary Birmingham, were honored for their years of generosity.
Volunteers from Milestone Youth Center and Plaza Heights Baptist Church in Blue Springs, who also assist with the dinner, presented Bishop Birmingham and his mother with plaques proclaiming them “100,000 meal champions.”
The two have been feeding people in need in Kansas City since 1972 and it’s estimated that they have served more than 100,000 meals over the years.
“I hate to see people go without food to eat,” Mary Birmingham said. “I enjoy seeing people coming in.”
Mary Birmingham, known as Mother Mary to her fans, started helping her son serve meals to homeless people 40 years ago when Bishop Birmingham started the Upper Room Jesus Compassionate Ministries. At the time, the bishop operated two houses in Kansas City — Compassionate Home and Harrison House — where he and his mother would make three meals a day for anyone who needed it.
“I had several homes for the homeless,” Bishop Birmingham said. “We fed them every day and tried to get them jobs. We would always try to get them spiritually connected first. We did not give them a handout but a hand up and helped them get jobs and established in society.”
Through the Upper Room Jesus Compassionate Ministries, Bishop Birmingham would go into areas of the city where homeless people were known to be and try to help give them an opportunity to change their lives.
“It gave them a way to stand on their own and not go back to drugs and the alcohol and the things they were doing in the streets,” Bishop Birmingham said. “I tried to rescue them from the street life and help them to connect to God and teach them to be an asset to society.”
Feeding so many people three times a day eventually became too expensive. So in the 1990s he began offering a Thanksgiving meal to anyone who needed it. He found a supportive partner in Mike Bobbitt of the Milestone Youth Center. Bobbitt opened up his facility to provide a place for the meal.
Bishop Birmingham, along with volunteers, takes two buses every year to pick up people from five Kansas City missions. They bring those in need to the youth center for a Thanksgiving meal prepared by volunteers from Plaza Heights Baptist Church. Bobbitt then opens up the youth center’s clothing room and allows attendees to pick out clothing, coats and blankets.
“Both John and I have always felt that people require dignity and if you can give them an element of dignity and respect, that does a lot for their self-esteem,” Bobbitt said.
This year, more than 400 people came out for the meal, which was held the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
“They love it,” Bobbitt said. “We try to make everyone feel welcome and give dignity to everyone that walks through the door.”
Bishop Birmingham said he was shocked when he and his mother were presented with the plaques during this year’s Thanksgiving meal, especially since he believes he is just doing the work God has led him to.
“I’m not in it for the appreciation. I want to help someone,” Bishop Birmingham said. “I’m sure the people we help appreciate it.”