WARREN - For about 10 years, Grace AME Church in Warren has provided the community with hope and companionship one plate at a time on New Year's Day.
The annual meal is organized by members of the church's Louise Currie Missionary Society and served nearly 100 attendees with dishes full of pork and gravy, green beans, fried chicken and a variety of desserts.
Freda Stargell, president of the church's chapter of the missionary society, said the food giveaway is sponsored as a part of Grace AME's outreach service to the community.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Alisa Manna
Members of Grace AME’s Louise Currie Missionary Society spent the holiday Wednesday offering good will and free meals to help ring in the new year.
She said in addition to serving on New Year's Day, the church offers free lunches four times a year and donates sporadically.
"We brought brand new shoes to the people at Someplace Safe, and had a clothing giveaway in August," she said.
She explained the church donates to several different causes, even people who have suffered through a tragic incident.
At Wednesday's dinner, members of the missionary society donated socks and travel-size toiletries to everyone in attendance. Anyone who is unable to join in the holiday dinner, whether it's due to an illness or lack of transportation, has a meal delivered to their door.
"For Christmas, everyone on the shut-in list is given a mall gift from the missionary," Stargell said.
Gloria Rodgers, past president of the North Ohio Chapter of the Louise Currie Missionary Society, said the feedings started in Cleveland. Now, all of the churches under the conference present feedings to their own communities.
Rodgers said Grace AME feeds the Youngstown, Warren and Akron communities.
"We just believe in helping out community on the west side of town, and spreading our love across Warren. With people out of work because of the economy and depression, we're happy to be able to do this for the community. Christ said to feed his sheep. We're trying to do that here," Rodgers said.
She said the meal originally was held on Thanksgiving, but was changed to New Year's because there's a greater need during that time in comparison to the many Thanksgiving Day feedings.
Church member and steward Randall Miller said not only does the meal give to those in need, but gives the congregation an opportunity to have fellowship and bring in the new year together.
"They provide a good wholesome meal for anyone who wants to come. They don't have to be in need. We're here to serve you," Miller said.
Carla Thornton, a member of the church, said she supports the church's efforts by attending the meals and serving on occasions.
"I think it's what we are supposed to do: help the community. It's what we're called to do. And the church does it often, not just on New Year's," she said.
Thornton said when she serves at church's functions, she brings her daughter, Mya, who also contributes. She said her daughter is fortunate, but she also needs to give back when she can.
"She has parents who work and can provide for her. A lot of people don't have that," Thornton said.
Carla's mother-in-law, the Rev. Gena Thornton, described the meal as a blessing. She said the church is very lucky to have food and be able to serve it to others.
"This is a meal for those who might not be able to provide for themselves," she said. "It's busy during Christmas, so there isn't a chance to eat and greet. We're doing that now."
She said the missionary society is constantly gracious and extends courtesy to help not only those in the community but around the world. She said the quarterly lunches and annual holiday meal is just a small portion of the church's ultimate goal.
"We pray it will affect people wouldn't be inspired another way. There's is so much need in the world, the poor consists mostly of women and children. Lift that out of our community and world and just make it better. Help the the light of God shine in and pick up the torch and spread it to the future, and then each generation gets stronger," the Reverend said.
She said this challenge goes beyond the walls of a church, and the mission is to reach outside the congregation.
Tera Wheatley of Warren, a mother of five children, said she was grateful to sit down and enjoy a holiday meal with the kids.
"I think this is excellent. Everything was really good and people are really friendly. There's nothing like sharing a good meal at a good place, and the kids enjoy it," she said.
All the Grace AME lunches, giveaways and holiday meals are open to the public without any income requirements.
"We're sharing one spoon at a time," the Rev. Thornton said. "Anything to extend courtesy and help all of those around the world."