Area organizations, shelters and churches are changing their community Thanksgiving meals this year to focus on to-go meals, drive-thru pickup and deliveries to reduce the risk of direct transmission of the coronavirus.
Many participating groups told the Globe they’re taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously and adopting safety modifications and have either canceled or limited their in-person gatherings.
However, those who don’t want to cook or have no place to go can still pick up free meals at any of the following locations:
• First United Methodist Church in Joplin, 501 W. Fourth St., will have to-go meals available to the public from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday in the north parking lot. Pastor Marsha Eichler said that in a normal year, the church would have a combination of dine-in and carryout, but with the recent outbreak in COVID-19 cases, the church plans on erring on the side of caution with to-go meals only.
“This year, it is a drive-thru or walk-through where you pick up a carryout container,” she said. “We started planning this months ago, and we thought this was a way we could still be able to offer this with what’s going on. We won’t have any guests in the building, and our team will be bringing things out. We knew it wasn’t going to be the same way it has been before, and we just tried to embrace that.”
Volunteers will be wearing gloves and masks, and they will follow safety protocols. Each meal consists of turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, a roll and a dessert. Meals are limited to 10 per household. All meals will include a sticker and a prayer card, courtesy of the church youth.
Typically, the church serves an estimated 700 meals every year, which is a combination of dine in and to-go orders.
“We have no idea what to expect,” Eichler said. “You don’t have to be in a vehicle to come through. We’re planning for that target 700 servings of food and if we have fewer than we expected, we’ll distribute it to our area partners like Crosslines and Watered Gardens.”
• The Carthage Crisis Center at 100 N. Main St. serves over 400 Thanksgiving meals annually to men, women and children in need in the Carthage area. That is made possible by a team of volunteers who prepare food for three days, and meals are provided by donations.
Due to COVID-19, meals will be boxed up in the dining hall at the Crisis Center, and others will be delivered. Everyone will receive a five-course meal and a small gift from the center. Executive Director Jim Benton said the center plans on serving approximately 300 meals this year.
“With the recent increase in Covid-19 cases, loneliness becomes a profoundly serious issue,” Benton said in a statement. “We firmly believe that no one should feel all alone on Thanksgiving! It is a time to be joyful and give thanks.”
• The Joplin Salvation Army will serve to-go meals from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at the main door of the Salvation Army building, 320 E. Eighth St. The meal will consist of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, a dinner roll and a dessert.
Lt. Marty Norris said the Salvation Army has been serving meals in to-go containers since summer, and until the number of COVID-19 cases slows down, it's limiting the capacity inside the building.
“We’re planning on more this year than what we’ve had in the past,” Norris said. “We’re probably looking anywhere from 350 to 400 meals.”
• Souls Harbor, a Joplin homeless shelter at 817 S. Main St,, will be open Thanksgiving Day for dinner beginning at 5 p.m., said Diana Gurley, executive director. The traditional dinner includes turkey, stuffing, candied carrots and a seven-layer salad. Gurley said if any guests would like to come, they can enter through the back door of the kitchen to pick up a to-go meal. The shelter's formal Thanksgiving dinner took place last week.
“We usually do it the Saturday before because everybody’s got things going on, and it gives us the opportunity to have everyone in-house to celebrate Thanksgiving together,” Gurley said. “We want to make sure that anybody who wanted to come or wants to have a Thanksgiving dinner, can still come and have it anyway.”
• Unity of Joplin, a church located at 204 N. Jackson Ave., will also be holding a drive-thru Thanksgiving beginning at 1 p.m. in the church parking lot until meals run out. The pre-packed meals will be distributed first come, first served.