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‘We’re a family down there’ — Community gathering welcomes everyone

Everyone knows the Thanksgiving tradition. Families come together, enjoying a meal and each other’s company, and giving thanks for all the things that really matter.

On top of that, Brookhaven has another tradition. It’s the Doug Sullivan Community Thanksgiving Meal at the First United Methodist Church. Every year, the community comes together and provides a family for those who don’t have one to go to.

“We’re a family down there,” said Brookhaven Alderwoman-at-Large Karen Sullivan — whose late husband helped inspire the luncheon — after helping to unload cans of sweet potato provided through a food drive run by Brookhaven High School. “We’re giving them a family to come and share and eat with us.”

Doug Sullivan, the mayor of Brookhaven from 1993-97, died in 2007. He’d always wanted to host a community dinner where they could feed anyone of any race, social status or income — especially those who might not enjoy a Thanksgiving meal otherwise. But the Sullivans’ church didn’t have the facilities to accommodate that many people or a kitchen large enough to prepare the meals. When the new ministry center was completed in that same year, equipped with an industrial-sized kitchen, the event seemed to come together by design.

It’s an event the whole community has gotten behind. Brookhaven High School, Alexander Junior High and the Mississippi School of the Arts all have canned food drives for sweet potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce.

“Oh my goodness. These kids always come through,” Sullivan said. “They’re very giving, loving students. They come through for us.”

People can carry out, dine in or even ask for a delivery. In the beginning 13 years ago when the community Thanksgiving was first held, very few people ate in at the Ministry Center. But over the years, the event has continued to grow and the community has gotten more comfortable with the idea. Last year, there were over 1,000 meals served, and Sullivan said the church was prepared for a lot more.

“We love the fellowship,” Sullivan said. “That’s a day you really don’t want to be without family… It’s not Thanksgiving unless you’ve got a big crowd.”

Sullivan said she is most thankful for her health and that of her family.

“I thank God every day for being a healthy person that can unload a car full of canned sweet potatoes,” she said.

Anyone interested in having a meal delivered should contact the FUMC office at 601-833-3519 by Monday to schedule a drop off. Everyone else is welcome to stop by the church’s Ministry Center — located behind the downtown Post Office — between 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day and enjoy a home cooked meal and some company.