People across the Culpeper region who might have gone without turkey on Thanksgiving enjoyed traditional meals thanks to compassionate volunteers who joined forces to make it happen.
“We try to do as Jesus said, to serve our fellow man,” said Dr. Milton Branch, pastor of Immanuel Christian Ministries, who led the effort. “When we help those around us, we’re loving our neighbor, and serving God.”
For the past 15 years, Immanuel Christian Ministries has been organizing free meals for anyone who wants one on Thanksgiving Day.
“We’ve fed more than 350 people,” Branch said at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Thanksgiving. “We made deliveries as far away as Orange for those who couldn’t get out, some people came and picked up their meal, and we’ve had a lot of dine-ins.”
The ministry doesn’t have a meetinghouse of its own from which to launch such an effort. On Sundays, members worship at Horizon Funeral Home on Old Brandy Road.
“We own land, though, and we plan to break ground on a building next year,” Branch said. “We broke away from Antioch [Baptist Church in Culpeper], and near Easter, we’ll be celebrating our 10-year anniversary.”
Over time, the ministry has provided free Thanksgiving meals at restaurants, such as Popeye’s, and various church buildings. More lately, as with this year’s celebration, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church on Old Rixeyville Road in Culpeper has provided the location.
On this Thanksgiving Day, St. Luke’s was bustling with activity. Ushers stood in the parking area, greeted visitors warmly and directed them to the kitchen. Inside, one heard the cheerful hum of workers talking and laughing together, and detected the familiar smells of rolls, stuffing, sweet potatoes and green beans.
And of course, turkey.
“I think we had maybe 20, 25 that were donated, and roasted by church members,” Branch said. “That and ham—I think we had two or three large hams.”
Several church members kept busy serving dine-in customers or helping those who had arranged to pick up a meal gather what they needed.
“I do it to serve God’s children,” said Sharon Wise, a volunteer and usher who said she’d been at St. Luke’s for most of the day, helping. “I want to share with others all the blessings I have.”
Dessert for the meals was provided by the Culpeper Pies Project, organized by local attorney Monica Chernin and others in coordination with the Culpeper Food Closet in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Anyone in the community could donate any kind of pie, homemade or store-bought, which were then used to top off free meals for those in need.
About 600 pies were donated this year and distributed through several channels, including Immanuel Christian Ministry’s free-meal effort on Thursday.
Hilton Harding, a deacon in the ministry, said he had opened St. Luke’s that morning and labored with others to set everything up.
“I’ve been helping in the kitchen, pulling ham, going out for delivery—basically just doing whatever needed to get done,” Harding said.
He and another deacon, Michael Washington, sat resting, taking a needed break before getting back to work.
Washington was serving as chef for the day, Harding said. “And he’s also our resident comic; he keeps us entertained,” Harding smiled, adding that the two of them had worked together on Thanksgiving Day to provide meals for nearly a decade.
“We do it mainly for the good feeling that comes from giving back to the community,” he said. “We try to feed the homeless and destitute throughout the year, delivering food to St. Stephen’s [food pantry] every week.”
One who came to St. Luke’s on Thanksgiving to enjoy a meal was the Rev. David J. Greer, the 90-year-old retired rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Shreveport, La., temporarily in town to lead the funeral service for a family friend in Richmond.
“I’m delighted I came in,” Greer said, seated at a table with his meal. “The food is delicious; I’m enjoying it very much.”
Greer and his wife, Barbara, who died in 2012, raised their children in the Culpeper area, with Greer serving as rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Warrenton. His son, John Ross Greer, and a daughter still live nearby, and had read about the ministry’s Thanksgiving initiative in the newspaper.
“It seemed like a nice opportunity to enjoy a meal and visit with some wonderful people,” said Greer’s daughter, who asked not to be named.
The Greers moved to Shreveport in 1985. Greer’s daughter said he reads The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times every day, and also participates in two book groups. He marked his 90th birthday on Oct. 7.
At St. Luke’s on Thursday, the general feelings expressed by volunteers and visitors were warmth, happiness, and satisfisfaction.
“Culpeper is a wonderful place to live, filled with a lot of good people,” said Patricia Bernoukh, Immanuel Christian Ministries’s church secretary. “It’s a community that’s been good to me, and I want to do what I can to give back.”