Community outreach programs across Indiana are expecting to serve more free Thanksgiving meals this year than last.

As a result, programs like the Muncie Mission Ministries have seen an increase in attendance, just within the last few weeks leading up to the holiday.

“Six months ago, we were kind of flabbergasted that we had reached an average of about 80 people coming every day. And all of a sudden, in the last month, it has grown that we have seen about 120 daily,” said Don Forde, the director of development for Muncie Mission Ministries. “There are just more and more people being affected by the economy."

How to get involved with Muncie Mission:

Nov. 23

A handful of volunteers come to the shelter for food preparation. Turkeys are cooked and carved, loaves of bread are torn into pieces for stuffing and vegetables are cleaned and chopped.

Nov. 24, Thanksgiving day 

  • 6 a.m. — Staff members arrive to rearrange the dining room and set up tables.
  • 8 a.m. — The first group of volunteers arrives. Cranberry sauce is poured into containers, cups are filled with juice and the vegetables chopped on Wednesday evening are arranged onto platters.
  • 9 a.m. — A second group of volunteers arrives to slice 55 pumpkin pies.
  • 10:30 a.m. — Another group arrives to assemble two types of to-go meals for homebound individuals. Volunteers place pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and other fixings into the “cold bag” and turkey and other warm food items into the “hot bag.”
  • 11 a.m. — Thanksgiving meal is served to the homeless shelter residents. Clean up begins in the kitchen.
  • 11:30 a.m. — The dining room tables are cleaned and reset for the public.
  • Noon — Muncie Mission Ministries’ doors open to the public, and one group of volunteers begins serving the meal. Another group fills vehicles with the to-go bags and delivers them to the homebound individuals.
  • 1:30 p.m. — The main meal ends, but a few dining room tables are reset for any staff members, volunteers and latecomers who want to eat. Afterward, the staff and volunteers begin final cleanup. Floors are swept, tables are disinfected and leftovers are spooned into containers and stored in the refrigerator.

Muncie Mission served 425 meals to the public last Thanksgiving. But this year, staff members are expecting to serve between 25 to 50 more meals, Forde said. 

As of 2015, 14.5 percent of Hoosiers were living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

While poverty data for 2016 is unavailable, the community outreach programs said they have seen an attendance increase at the free meals they serve during the week.

While attendance is growing, program directors say the actual Thanksgiving meal, other than preparing a little more food, is not expected to change.

“[Muncie Mission Ministries has] been doing the same thing for 86 years,” Forde said. “Just a traditional Thanksgiving meal and — the old cliché — all the trimmings."

But preparing the traditional meal with all the trimmings takes time.

Staff members and 97 volunteers worked a total of 138 hours to prepare, serve and clean up the Thanksgiving meal served in 2015, Jessie Dudley, the program’s volunteer coordinator said.

“It’s kind of crazy how everything falls together,” Dudley said.

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But as for Forde, the process is not crazy, it’s simple.

“Our philosophy is running out of food is never an option,” he said. “Whatever it takes is what it takes.”

Forde is a 13-year employee at Muncie Mission Ministries and has served the Thanksgiving meal since he first started his job.

But he said serving his community has not always been his plan. Prior to his current job, he worked in sales at IKON Office Solutions, a company, now closed, that created online records of paper documents.

He said the thought of working with those less fortunate concerned him.

“It was ignorance on my part,” Forde said. “People don’t understand what a homeless person is all about. They are not violent people. They are needy people.”

But while he could not fully explain his career move, he said he began his second job at the shelter because he felt called to help others. And in the last 13 years, he said he has learned a lot about need.

“Since I’ve been on board, I’ve really, really understood so much more about the needs of other people,” Forde said. 

He said there is not one specific type of person who comes to the shelter for Thanksgiving.

“Single mothers with children, men addicted to alcohol and teenagers hooked on drugs are only a few of the people he has seen come through the shelter’s doors,” he said.

And while even more people are expected to cross through those doors this Thanksgiving, Forde said it will not be a problem.

“If more people come, somehow we will have food for them. It’s just the way we operate,” he said.