It didn’t take long for the Rev. John Birmingham to fill a borrowed school bus and a passenger van Saturday with people in need so they could attend his annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner and clothing giveaway.
The bus from Plaza Heights Baptist Church made stops at City Union Mission and Hope Faith Ministries before making its way to the Milestone Youth Center in the Northeast area, where a large contingency of volunteers and hot meals awaited.
“The Bible says go out and get them, and that is what Jesus did with his ministry,” said Birmingham, who estimates his ministry has fed more than 100,000 people during the past four decades. “We cannot wait for them to come here. The church needs to go to the community.”
Organizers had no problem luring people in need to the youth center at 3417 E. 12th St. By the time Birmingham and the school bus arrived, dozens of families already were standing in line waiting to enter.
The meal prepared by volunteers from Plaza Heights Baptist Church of Blue Springs consisted of pork lion covered with brown gravy, a baked potato, green beans, carrots and a roll. Dinner guests also were allowed to pick out coats, winter hats, gloves, blankets and other items.
“This is about loving people and seeing their needs,” said the Rev. Jim Tolliver, Plaza Heights senior pastor. “And maybe if we can be a tiny part of that to help people, then that is a great blessing.”
The gymnasium inside the youth center buzzed with activity. Volunteers weaved among the rows of tables, carrying trays of milk and lemonade and butter and sour cream. Elsewhere, other volunteers separated stacks of coats.
“This is what God wants us to do,” 19-year-old volunteer Elena Coppenbarger said as she spooned carrots onto a plate.
The day’s generosity was not lost on the dinner guests.
“I see the opportunities that God has provided to help people for things that we need,” said Allen Sykes, 24, who is enrolled in a job training and enrichment program at City Union Mission. “I decided to get on the bus and see what God had in store for me.”
Since 1976, Birmingham and his mother have fed the homeless for Thanksgiving. But that effort became too costly and too difficult to manage alone. About four years ago, he teamed up Mike Bobbitt, who runs the youth center.
Bales Avenue Community Church also supports the annual effort.
Over the years, the need to help others hasn’t changed, Bobbitt said.
“They come back year after year, and that means needs are being met, people are being fed and clothes are being handed out,” he said. “And we are blessed by it.”