Union Gospel Mission is setting its table for more than 50,000 this Thanksgiving.
The Twin Cities charity has already given away nearly 10,000 bags of groceries, each packed with turkey and trimmings for a family of five.
Volunteers also will deliver 1,200 prepared turkey dinners to low-income and senior apartments, and serve as many as 500 hot meals at its St. Paul men’s campus, 435 University Av. E., from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.
Union Gospel Mission, a nondenominational Christian charity best known for helping the homeless and those battling addiction, has given out Thanksgivings meals for 60 years.
“It doesn’t solve world hunger,” said Brian Molohon, vice president of development. “It’s a one-day thing, but it’s amazing to me every year when I see thousands of people lining up to get these meals who would otherwise not be able to have a special Thanksgiving meal.
“While this is a small gesture in the big scheme of a family budget, it’s a reminder we are here to build community together and we have much to be thankful for.”
Union Gospel Mission started its Thanksgiving meal giveaway in 1958. Each bag of groceries includes either a turkey or a grocery store gift card to buy a bird, along with potatoes, yams, sweet corn, peas, stuffing, cranberries, rice, cake mix and frosting.
The giveaway works on an honor system, and no one who signs up for a meal need produce an income statement, only some kind of identification. People sometimes wait in long lines to sign up for one of the takeout bags.
“There are thousands of people in need in the community and thousands of people on the bubble,” Molohon said.
It’s also an important exercise in generosity for many who count their blessings this time of year and want to give back. Businesses, churches and individuals donate food and funds to cover the Thanksgiving meals. Molohon said the event costs the charity more than $250,000 in time and resources.
“Why we do this? Things like chronic generational poverty and homelessness are big, big issues that will only be truly impacted when you have an army of educated and inspired folks who say, ‘Enough is enough. I want to make a difference,’ ” Molohon said.
Years ago, Christy Vasquez and her family received a Thanksgiving bag from Union Gospel Mission. They had only one income and two young children, and she said it helped to have a Thanksgiving meal with leftovers for the week.
“We were a young family struggling with living expenses and we didn’t qualify for any type of help or assistance, but we were not turned down by the Union Gospel Mission,” she said.
When family finances improved, Vasquez decided to give back. She and a friend serve dinner once or twice a month at the men’s campus and help out with the Thanksgiving meal distribution.
“The people that work there are amazing. My faith has grown so much in the last two years,” Vasquez said. “What this organization does is not only help someone with a meal, but they try to find a solution for people to move toward a future.
“They let them know that they do matter. That God does love them. There is hope.”