November 29, 2023 // Diocese

On Thanksgiving, St. Mary Volunteers Serve ‘Members of the Family’

“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’” – Matthew 25:34-36

The Gospel of Matthew 25:31-46, the Judgement of Nations, is at the heart of the Thanksgiving Dinner provided by St. Mary Mother of God Catholic Church in downtown Fort Wayne.

“The reason we put this on is Matthew 25,” said Patrick McBride, Chairman of the Thanksgiving Dinner for the past 15 years. It was his mother who suggested to Father Tom O’Connor in 1978 that they should have a sit-down meal for those being served by the church’s soup kitchen. That Thanksgiving, the first sit-down meal was served; 45 years later, more than 1,500 meals of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie were served on Thursday, November 23.

Father Wimal Jayasuriya, Pastor of St. Mary, leads a prayer before Thanksgiving Dinner is served. “We take things and people for granted,” he said. “This is a chance to be thankful for people, things, nature, and God. God gives, and He forgives.”

McBride’s brother and other family members continue to volunteer alongside him each year. For many of the volunteers, serving as a family is part of the tradition.

Jodi Camino of Atlanta was one of the more than 150 volunteers helping with this year’s dinner. She was spending the holiday with her sister, who is a parishioner at St. Mary.

“I’m a big fan of churches that do actual ministry and service,” she said. After volunteering, she expected they would go back to her sister’s house and make “enchiladas or something.” But, at the dinner, she spent time talking with Rick Lahmeyer, who has attended the dinner for many years. He’s a former truck driver without a family to share the holidays.

“I’m a talker,” Lahmeyer said, and coming to the dinner gives him a chance to have a good meal and meet new people. “I like talking to the volunteers.”

Photos by Krista J. Stockman
Volunteers served more than 1,500 meals – both sit-down and carry-out – in about three hours during the annual Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mary Mother of God Parish. The meals included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, rolls and butter, and pumpkin pie.

For volunteer Gary Grider, the conversations are the highlight of the dinner. He’s been volunteering on Thanksgiving for 19 years in a variety of jobs. Now, he is the greeter, checking in volunteers and welcoming diners.

“My mother volunteered here and invited me,” he said, and he’s never at a loss for conversation topics. “One of the things my mom taught me was you have to know what’s going on in the world so you can talk with people.”

George Bachinsky talks with volunteers before guests arrive to the annual Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mary Soup Kitchen in downtown Fort Wayne. “When someone walks through that front door, they are family,” Bachinsky said.

The comradery people find at the dinner is intentional.

“Father Tom trained us well. This is not just a parish, it’s a family,” said George Bachinsky, a St. Mary parishioner and volunteer. “Anybody who walks through the doors of the church, they are members of the family, and we treat them as family. We just feed them and talk to them and make them feel welcome.”

Elizabeth Saunders said St. Mary’s volunteers have made her feel welcome. She is a regular visitor to the daily soup kitchen, which serves 350 meals a day. She was in line early on Thanksgiving Day and appreciated the meal and kindness of the volunteers.

“It makes you feel less homeless,” she said.

Volunteers prepare the pumpkin pie before the annual Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Mary Soup Kitchen.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.