While many people across the United States were thinking about the great offers they would find in stores after Thanksgiving, many others with low incomes or no incomes were wondering how they would make it through the holiday with enough food for their families. They don’t have to worry about snagging that parking space or managing airport delays. They worry about their children, who won’t be getting meals through school programs during the holiday break.
But for close to 1,000 families in Montgomery Country, Maryland, filling the Thanksgiving table with food was not such a challenge. Thanks to generous contributions from Montgomery County and the State of Maryland and food donations from Sligo and Takoma Park Seventh-day Adventist churches and Takoma Academy Preparatory School, people who preregistered through a county database received a full, 30-pound Thanksgiving meal basket, including turkey, bread, vegetables, potatoes, and more. For three days, starting November 25, 2019, families came to Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington (ACSGW) for their meals. The Takoma Park center reported that the number of families increased by 300 over last year.
“This provides the opportunity for these families to say, ‘We’re no different. Yes, we’re struggling financially, but at least a couple times a year, we can be like the rest of our culture, [enjoy] what should be happening on that date,’” said Kenneth Flemmer, ACSGW executive director. “I think that’s really important, because if you don’t have hope, if you aren’t sharing hope and exuding hope, life gets pretty miserable.”
A 20-foot truck was unloaded on Sunday, November 24, with the bulk of the fresh and non-perishable foods for the food giveaway at the ACSGW food pantry, which is typically open four days a week. “All our regular customers are getting a double portion this week,” Flemmer said. “We figure that there are about 15 meals in each Thanksgiving kit.”
At least 250 residents of Takoma Park were scheduled for food pickup; other “east county” residents comprised the rest of the list. This year, the Sligo Adventist church helped pack 20 baskets for a Riverdale community with refugees from the Middle East; about 100 baskets will go to families around Burtonsville.
Many expressed appreciation upon receiving the baskets. “With this help, I can afford to host the family for Thanksgiving dinner,” one recipient commented.
Helping to eliminate hunger in the community, especially during the holidays, is part of ACSGW’s mission. In a few weeks, the organization will host a Christmas food basket giveaway.
ASCGW is about more than just food, however. With the Christmas kit, children with families will also get toys from the Toys for Tots program.
The center has been serving the community through its food pantry and closet, and various other projects, for 36 years. And throughout the year, ACSGW engages with the community through tutoring, a learning center, computer classes, English as a second language classes, and summer youth programs.
Steve Brennwald, ACSGW board of directors chair and a criminal defense attorney, is convinced that programs such as these at the center change lives. “We give kids a glimpse of what’s possible; sometimes, that is all it takes,” he said. “You have to give people hope. You have to give them ideas. You have to give them dignity.”
Brennwald added, “All of us together have to do what we can to give them hope. If we give them hope and give them help — that’s why we have computer and English as a second language classes. We have to give people hope and the means to get there.”
Local community leaders helped kick off the distribution on November 25, including local delegates and council members. Senior pastor Charles Tapp from Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church and assistant pastor Daniel Xisto from Takoma Park Seventh-day Adventist Church also attended.
The holiday giving project involves many weeks of preparation, Flemmer said, including food drives, primarily by the local Sligo and Takoma Park Seventh-day Adventist churches, but other organizations as well. Besides the State of Maryland and Montgomery County, sponsors included the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church and Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center, among others.