Church spreads holiday cheer door to door with free chickens

It’s not every day a 7-year-old girl wakes up excited about frozen chickens.

But for Mackenzie Ruiz of Lenexa, Sunday was no ordinary day. It was the day she would help her mother — and more than 400 others from their Shawnee church — give away 800 chickens to local families for Thanksgiving.

Members of the year-old New City Church distributed the free fowls to residents in four nearby apartment complexes. Police stopped traffic on 75th Street west of Nieman just after noon so hundreds of church members could safely stroll across the busy street.

“We’re just blessing our neighbors,” said Matt Miller, the church’s lead pastor and designated “chicken captain.”

But why chickens and not turkeys?

“Because 50 percent of the community here is Hispanic,” explained Arturo Aguilera, one of the church’s pastors. “And there isn’t one traditional Thanksgiving food for Latin people. So we thought chickens would apply to everybody.”

“Who wants to give out some chickens?” yelled Jake Peterson of Lenexa, who hauled 195 of the frozen birds to the event in his black Honda Ridgeline.

The diverse crowd, which bought and donated the birds, erupted in a joyous cheer.

Inside the Haverford West Apartments on 75th Street, Mackenzie smiled as she knocked on doors, wanting nothing more than to say “Happy Thanksgiving” to whoever answered.

She’d have to wait. No one was home at the first few doors she and her mother, Elizabeth Ruiz, tried.

Plenty of other residents were home to accept the free food.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said 18-year-old Stephen Bean, who received a free bird. “Very nice how people came around handing out chickens like that. I mean, how often does that happen? And it’s even sweeter that they have the kids doing it.”

With each chicken the group members gave away, they left a calling card with the church’s name on it. It read “Happy Thanksgiving” on one side and the Spanish translation,

“Feliz dia de accion de gracias,”

on the other.

Such kindness has paid dividends. The congregation, which restored an abandoned dollar movie theater in the Trailridge Shopping Center at 75th Street and Nieman Road, has grown rapidly to almost 500 members.

On Sunday, giving felt good for young and old.

“It’s amazing what God is doing in our community through serving our neighbors,” Aguilera said.

But perhaps giving felt best for young Mackenzie Ruiz, who — along with her mother and a friend named Katherine Mall — finally found someone home.

She gave a chicken to a thankful Molly Greiner.

“I really appreciate the generosity and the work they are doing,” Greiner said.

And to show it, she shared something with Mackenzie and Katherine in return — her leftover Halloween candy.

All of it.

Mackenzie’s mouth hung open as if to say, “For me?”

Elizabeth Ruiz beamed a thankful grin.

“Isn’t that great?” she said to Greiner as her daughter inspected her haul. “We give to you, and you give back to us.”

Greiner smiled and nodded.

“It’s what the holidays are all about,” she said.