On October 8, Canadian Thanksgiving Day, in the parking lot of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Belleville, Ont., a school bus dropped off passengers, a half dozen motorized scooters filled an area close to the church entrance, and bicycles leaned against trees lining the front wall. All signs that the church’s free Thanksgiving dinner, an annual event since 2011, was underway.
Maranatha CRC is a congregation of 350-plus members in a city of about 50,000. The congregation outgrew its first building, and in 2008 it moved to a large new building near downtown Belleville. “Our new building has a full commercial kitchen and a kitchen manager,” said Felix Boer, who chairs the congregation’s benevolence team. “My vision was to do more to reach out to the people of this city. Other churches host Christmas dinners, so I thought about Thanksgiving. There are lots of people here who really have no family, nowhere to go on Thanksgiving Day.”
Maranatha’s first city-wide Thanksgiving dinner in 2011 drew 150 guests; it has grown each year. About 320 people enjoyed the meal this week. Local media outlets and churches help to publicize the event, and the town allows posters advertising the free Thanksgiving dinner in public buildings. The bus makes three stops throughout the city to gather those who don’t have another way there. A team of 40 volunteers handles setup duties, hosting, serving, preparation, and clean up.
The church covers the cost of the meal—turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green and yellow beans, and freshly made apple crisp and whipped cream for dessert—through offerings to its benevolence fund and donations from suppliers. Some diners ask whether they may contribute to the church and they are directed to a donation box.