On Thanksgiving Day, the sanctuary at Charlotte’s New Outreach Christian Center brings the sort of blessings that fill boxes, bags and cans – and holiday dreams.
Seated in the west Charlotte church’s 20 or so pews are people who live outside the safety net of local social service agencies, including families raising children, homeless people and a growing number of seniors.
Those who signed up in October took home a ready-to-cook turkey Thursday, along with a hot meal and drink for those waiting at home as well as a bag of groceries.
It’s been this way for 41 years, said Pastor Brenda Stevenson, who leads the church with her husband, Norman, who serves as bishop. Gifts for the event they call Thanksgiving Glory – more than 425 turkeys this year – always arrive just in time.
The church’s work of feeding the hungry with community donations, not just at Thanksgiving but throughout the year, is an achievement that has taught Stevenson an important lesson that she is prone to share with others.
“Thinking positive and being around positive people, it will change the atmosphere,” she said.
On this day, 30 volunteers turned out to the church off Hovis Road to prepare food, divvy the portions into Styrofoam clamshells, and present it to men and women who qualify based on income. Some also carry bags and boxes out to waiting cars for those who are not strong enough to manage on their own.
Many of these same volunteers will return on Christmas Day, when the church sends visitors home with a ham instead of turkey.
“It has become a Thanksgiving family for me,” said Arsalan Hafezi, president of Modern Salon and Spa and also a food donor and volunteer for 12 years.
He’s seen some of the volunteers become adults, and he’s seen the people the church serves.
“I know it’s helping many people,” he said.
Stevenson understands that many people wrestle with the idea of using public money to feed the hungry. She wants them to know the community’s needs are real.
“I want them to come over here and help volunteer so they can see,” she said.
The church gets referrals from agencies in Charlotte and through word-of-mouth. Stevenson has gotten calls for help from as far as Shelby and the Raleigh area, although she can’t deliver that far.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be having Thanksgiving,” said a 35-year-old mother of five who was seated in the chapel waiting for food.
A call came later from a woman who was traveling to the church by city bus to join others who would check in at the door, take a number and wait as refrains of gospel inspiration filled the room. No one left empty-handed.
“When I look around and see what the Lord has done,” Stevenson said, “it strengthens me and it heals me and it gives me a spirit of peace.”