Annual Sullivan Thanksgiving meal returns

Published 10:00 am Saturday, November 13, 2021

When former Brookhaven mayor, and longtime Brookhaven High School football coach, Doug Sullivan died suddenly in 2007, the members of his church family at First United Methodist Church wanted to do something to honor a great man who had done much for his community.

Discussions settled on something that would allow church members to fulfill Sullivan’s longstanding tradition of helping others. Fully living out the mantra of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,“ they decided that providing a delicious, hot Thanksgiving meal to anyone, no matter what their economic circumstances or family dynamics, would be the best way to give back just as Coach Sullivan would have wanted. Thus the Doug Sullivan Community Thanksgiving meal was born 15 years ago.

In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the method of serving others — strictly by providing carry-out and delivery — ensured the tradition could continue, despite COVID-19 protocols. Volunteers were spread out, masks were worn, and more than 1,300 Lincoln Countians were fed. Not even a global health crisis could stop this annual tradition.

This year, those same measures will continue. There will not be dine-in options, but diners may pick-up their plates at the Brookhaven FUMC Ministry Center on South Jackson Street (behind the downtown Post Office), or request delivery if they are unable to come to get their meals. The church’s Mission Team, which is responsible for planning and implementing the massive community feed, has requested that those needing meals call the church office at 601-833-3519, and leave a message with their name, address, phone number and the number of meals they will be requiring. Alternatively, they can call FUMC Mission Team leader Jennifer Calhoun at 601-695-0600. When making their “reservation,” they also need to say whether they plan to pick up or need delivery. All this information is vital to plan how many to prepare for, and where and when they need to be given out.

According to Calhoun, who has organized and cooked for every one of these community feasts, they try to stretch their meals to feed as many as they can.

“It can sometimes feels like the ‘fishes and the loaves,’ but it always works out,” Calhoun explained. “We’ve never had to turn anyone away. We hope we never do.”

This year, however, with the costs of many of the items increasing, including turkeys, they are really going to be relying upon the community more than ever to step in to help make this happen. Each year, in addition to funds from the church, monetary donations come in from a number of civic groups, businesses, church Sunday school classes, and individuals, to provide the financial assistance needed to purchase turkeys, fixings, and all the supplies for these meals. If you’d like to donate to the effort, you may drop a check off at the church office, 229 W. Cherokee St., via Venmo @fumcbrookhaven or by PayPal brook1stumc@gmail.com.

While the meat is purchased, what makes this meal unique, is that many of the other foodstuffs come from school children in the community. Students from Brookhaven High School, where both Coach Sullivan and his widow, Karen, both taught, donate cans of sweet potatoes (the bigger the cans, the better, because there are fewer cans to open). Alexander Junior High School students bring in hundreds of cans of green beans, and students at the Mississippi School of the Arts donate the requisite canned cranberry sauce. The deadline for students to turn in canned goods is Wed., Nov. 17.

The community spirit doesn’t end with financial contributions. It also takes a lot of hands to prepare turkey, cornbread dressing, green beans, sweet potato casserole, rolls, and dozens of desserts — which are also mostly donated by members of the First United Methodist congregation.

“We have people of all ages who come out and help, beginning on Tuesday, and working all the way through Thanksgiving,” Calhoun said. “We couldn’t do this without all these volunteers. They chop vegetables, bake cornbread, prepare casseroles, serve plates, deliver meals. It truly takes a ‘village’ to make this all possible.”

If you’d like to assist in this community service effort, work days will be Tuesday, Nov. 23, from 5 until 8 p.m., in the church’s Ministry Center; then, on Wednesday, Nov. 24, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. On Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 25, volunteers will begin making plates at 9 a.m., and continue until the last plates are carried-out or delivered. Pick-up begins at 11 a.m. and continues to 1:30 p.m.

“We are so grateful that the folks in Brookhaven and Lincoln County who need us to show them the love of Christ through this effort will not be disappointed this year,” said FUMC Senior Pastor Rev. Lynn Mote. “It’s amazing how this all comes together. It truly is a ‘God thing.’”