INDIANAPOLIS— Thanksgiving came a bit early this year for children and families of the community at Bethel Community Outreach on Sunday.
This is the fourth year for the Thanksgiving meal provided by churches around the state of Indiana.
“The most we have ever served prior to today has been 100 people,” Justin Graves, co-director at Bethel Community Outreach, said. “Today we (will probably) serve 300; after the community comes in and eats, we will then box everything up and go door to door handing out the rest of the food.”
Bethel Community Outreach began in 2010 when Graves introduced himself to the community manager of Bethel Town Homes. She gave them the entire room to use for their outreach on Baltimore Ave.
While Justin Graves and Ty Huber (co-founder) were planning their ministry, they began speaking with the pastor at Nehemiah Project Church in Avon.
“The church had been looking to get involved with an outreach, and they came on board with us, and invited us into the Wesleyan central district,” Graves said.
On Sept. 19, 2010 Bethel Community Outreach had its very first service, and has continued to have a service every Sunday starting at 2 p.m. There is usually anywhere from 10 to 30 kids and a few women that come to the service, with hot dogs provided beforehand.
Huber and Graves met on a church disciple walk and became partners beginning the ministry, going around to churches and speaking to the congregation about their ministry.
“We felt like God had a vision for us to come in and do this, just from pulling into the neighborhood and cooking hot dogs, all of this has come from it,” Huber said.
The area the outreach is located in has high crime, but the outreach wants this place to be somewhere that the kids feel safe.
“Our goal has been to bring a light into the neighborhood and to show the kids there is something they can do to achieve a better life,” Huber said. “We are trying to turn this into a place where they can go.”
Rachel Heinbaugh, Missions and Outreach Coordinator for Nehemiah Project Church, says they have done many things with the outreach such as coat drives, giving backpacks to children in the summer and many people from the church come to help with this Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s not only a great opportunity for people from the Westside of Indianapolis and Hendricks County to come out and serve, but also to help the kids in the community here who are learning to give back and let their light shine,” she said. “There is a high volume of kids that attend. It gives them hope and a family environment with an extra support system that might not always be there.”
The staff coming to the church every Thursday evening and Sunday includes Celeste Meyer, Graves’ mother.
“Without her and a couple other women here, there is no way we could ever have done this,” Huber said. “This is a team effort.”
Meyer comes in on Thursday nights, makes the neighborhood a meal, has Bible study and usually creates crafts with the kids.
“This is a blessing; this whole area has been such a blessing to my life,” Meyer said. “For the first two years, it was just me and a couple of other people; I came here thinking I was going to help other people and bless their lives, but instead I get all of the blessing.”
She added: “We’re making this about the kids and giving back to the community. Some of the kids are working here today that come in every Sunday, you get attached to the kids and they get attached to you.”
Besides the Sunday service and Thursday Bible study, the Bethel Community Outreach wants to add tutoring through the course of the week.
They are looking for donations to buy computers, and things are moving slowly, but things are happening.
Huber has worked with the homeless downtown, and one day would also like for a crew of people from this ministry go downtown with him and help the homeless.
Many families and the homeless downtown received food in the community with the help of the kids of the outreach. They took three trays of turkey and four pies to a homeless camp at Madison and McCarty. The final meal count based on the number of plates and containers used was close to 600.
“We’re trying to teach the kids respect,” said Huber. “I know a lot of these kids don’t have a lot, but we’re motivating them.”
“We are all the same people no matter where we live or where we are from,” Heinbaugh said. “It’s good to teach the kids that.”
For more information about the Bethel Community Outreach, which is located at 3102 Baltimore Ave., Indianapolis, call 607-4289, e-mail to Justin@bcoutreach.org, or visit the website www.bcoutreach.org.