Thanksgiving outreach attracts assistance from police, city government
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
Seventeen years ago, a Coatesville pastor visiting the city’s Community Center heard a homeless person ask for change for a cup of coffee, an experience that launched a far-reaching ambition.
Pastor Frank Fullwood of the Jubilee Christian Center said he wanted to ensure that people in his city weren’t going hungry, and he and his congregation began providing meals to the needy, an outreach that has grown, particularly during the recession.
On Thanksgiving Day, Pastor Fullwood and his faithful spent hours preparing a feast for an unknown number of guests. With gospel music playing in the background, more than a dozen volunteers scurried around the kitchen in an unmarked building in the 900 block of East Lincoln Highway, juggling trays heaped with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and more.
For the past 15 years, the church, which is now officially designated as a county Feeding and Food Distribution Center, has prepared a full meal every Tuesday and Thursday. Pastor Fullwood said the number of visitors often declines on holidays. “Some people are able to find other places to go, such as with family,” he said. But the church is ready for those lacking that option – and eager to make the dinner special.
This year, the volunteers got some extra help to accomplish that. Normally, guests walk down a serving line and help themselves. On Thanksgiving, they received table service. The wait staff included Coatesville’s newly hired police chief, Stephen Johnson; City Manager Kirby Hudson; and City Councilman Jarrell Brazzle.
Johnson, a former Philadelphia Police deputy commissioner who doesn’t officially start working until Dec. 10, said he inquired about holiday community-service opportunities because he typically performs them in Philadelphia and wants to become familiar with Coatesville. He learned about the Thanksgiving meal from Coatesville Police Officer Rodger Ollis, a regular volunteer at Jubilee.
“This is what we should be doing, helping people,” said Johnson, who quickly donned an apron and plastic gloves and pointed out that his backwards baseball cap was strictly off-duty attire.
Tammy Brooks, the church clerk, would agree. “It’s just more gratifying to give,” she said. “The economy is tearing people up, and the opportunity to be able to provide a good meal with a tender touch and a smile is a blessing.”
Brooks said the feeding program began with visits to a city shelter housing 20 to 30 residents and expanded when the church purchased its building on East Lincoln Highway in 1999. After the recession hit, the church saw the need double, she said, going from about 50 a week to 100. More recently, the ministry has provided meals to up to 140 at a time. It has also started a drug recovery program and runs a summer Vacation Bible School.
Brooks said Pastor Fullwood’s energy fuels their mission. “He loves this so much and has been doing it for so long,” she said. “It’s his passion. Often, he’s in another zone.”
Although the congregation of about 60 has its hands full with the burgeoning meal program, she said Pastor Fullwood has dreams of renovating the building for youth outreach activities and tutoring. In the meantime, she said they are grateful for being able to fill a void – and accomplish it in such an appetizing fashion.
Pastor Fullwood said he is particularly thankful for Bill Roane, a church member who happens to be a retired corporate chef and oversees the food preparation. “His tuna casserole is to die for,” added Brooks.
Recipients of the Thanksgiving meal – about 50 total – echoed the praise, as volunteers began packaging the leftovers, some of which will be frozen for later use and some of which were destined for area food cupboards.
“The meals are always good here,” one man said.
Another, who described himself as a homeless veteran, concurred. “I’m glad I made it here today. I really appreciate this.”