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Amy Harmon with MANNA Food Bank, prepares tasty food samples for those attending the event.

A changed-up Thanksgiving event put on by Waynesville downtown churches resulted in 181 families receiving a food box of staples plus fresh fruits, vegetables and a free chili dinner.

The event replaced a long-standing ecumenical service that the area churches took turns hosting and was one that ended up feeding 472 household members.

The only question those in line for the food were asked was the number of people in the household.

“This was an opportunity to highlight the food security work going on in Haywood County,” said Lauren Wood, public health education specialist with the Haywood County Health & Human Services Agency. “There is an abundance of resources if we all collaborate. This makes me emotional to see all these people being served because of the collaboration of all the churches.”

Wood, along with more than a dozen other social services agencies, had a table set up at the First United Methodist Church of Waynesville highlighting where those who are hungry can get food or a meal.

“There’s somewhere people can go 24-7 in Haywood County and get food,” said Kasey Valentine Steffan, in reference an outdoor food pantry in Maggie Valley that’s open around the clock, meal service programs such as The Community Kitchen in Canton, the Open Door and Haywood Pathways Center in Waynesville and various meal programs and food pantries at churches within the county. “I feel like Haywood County is ahead of so many places.”

The food for the event came from MANNA Food Bank out of Asheville which partners with churches and agencies across the region to distribute food items donated or purchased.

Upon first entering the event, visitors were greeted by the aroma of sautéed vegetables being prepared by MANNA’s Amy Harmon, along with stacks of recipes available to talk about various ways items such as eggplant or other low-cost food items could be turned into a tasty, nutritious meal.

Vicky Gribble with Mountain Projects, was one of the event volunteers.

“One of our priorities was to educate people about where food resources can be found in Haywood,” she said, noting people started lining up for the event at 1:30 p.m. “This is neighbor helping neighbor.”

Joslyn Schaefer, the rector at Grace in the Mountains Episcopal Church, said she was pleased with how the new format had been received.

“In some ways, this is a dream come true for the clergy who wanted to add a service component to our traditional Thanksgiving event,” she said.

Matthew Blackburn, the youth services director at Waynesville First United Methodist Church, said the turnout, the connections made and general functionality of the event made it a huge success.

“For us, it was great to form relationships with other congregations through service to our community,” Blackburn said. “I heard a lot of folks from different churches say, ‘hope to see you next year.’ We do hope to do it again and our tentative plan is to have the event at First Baptist Church next year.”

Rather than offer a sit-down worship service after the event, Blackburn said a quick prayer wrapped up the event.

“The worship was really felt through the serving and fellowshipping together throughout the event,” Blackburn said.

Participating Waynesville churches included First Baptist, First Methodist, Grace Episcopal, First Presbyterian, Jones Temple AME Zion and St. John’s Catholic Church.

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