While many people were sleeping late on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, more than a dozen volunteers were up early to become individual parts of a well-oiled machine. Loaves of bread, canned goods, paper towels, and even some sweet treats overflowed from white laundry baskets while cooked hams and bags of potatoes were piled high in the bed of a pickup truck on that cool but sunny morning.
Overlapping chatter and bodies shuffling through the halls never seemed chaotic, however, since the men, women, and children that sorted and packed the baskets at Ardmore Presbyterian Church have done this before.
“Many hands make light work,” said Lori Hoke as she clutched a clipboard full of names that will receive the baskets. She started helping with the project about 20 years ago and said about 15 families were helped that year. This year, she says 57 families are receiving the care packages. Some families are large with many children, while others are elderly couples who help keep their neighbors fed.
“Our goal is not just for Thanksgiving, but to carry them through the weekend,” Hoke said. She and other members of Ardmore Presbyterian Church know how widespread the need is since they regularly work with the local food bank and soup kitchen.
“We used to put turkeys in until we realized that a lot of people don’t have ovens,” Hoke said. Now with fully cooked hams, Hoke hopes the donations will address food insecurity and give families more options, especially the children who may only get regular meals during school.
“Everybody’s heart is in this,” Hoke said repeatedly. She had not yet tallied the exact number of children who would benefit this year but said helping kids is what motivates most of the volunteers. Hoke, a former educator, worked with counselors at Ardmore elementary schools well before the holidays to identify families that could use the donations.
At least two weeks before Thanksgiving, volunteers started making the purchases. Hoke said many items come from Save-a-Lot, and that the manager would inform her about sale items to maximize the number of items purchased. Volunteers with trucks and trailers then took the items to the church to be organized and packed.
Just a few hours before families picked up the baskets on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, volunteers young and old prepared, sorted, and packed the baskets. Some volunteers came from as far away as Wichita Falls so they could keep the annual tradition going. Hoke said some of the packaging from all the groceries would actually be reused by the Ardmore Soup Kitchen instead of being thrown away in an effort to further the community service.
Craig King became the pastor of Ardmore Presbyterian Church earlier this year. Even though this is his first time taking part in the Thanksgiving basket donation, he did not seem phased by the enormous effort being put into the project. Instead, he was all smiles as he navigated a narrow hallway with a broom in an effort to keep pathways clear.
“I like the way people come together and work together, and not just in our church,” he said, referring to members of other churches and even Save-a-Lot employees. He says mission work is a major driving force for him, and Hoke said that drive is why parishioners recruited him from the Texas coast to pastor in Ardmore. “It’s not about Craig, it’s not about the Presbyterian Church in Ardmore, it’s about working together,” he said.
Along with other service projects undertaken by the church throughout the year, King has big plans to offer even more and wants to make sure community resources can be used together. “To me, the best sermon is not having to open your mouth,” he said. “We’re not here to try and put more people in the pews, we’re here to feed people.”