Volunteers gave up a day of lazing around and watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to help those in need on Thanksgiving.

Under a big red-and-white tent behind Harvest Thrift Super Center in Opelika, tables laden with turkey and dressing, along with volunteers scooping the food into to-go boxes.

It was 40 years ago that a group civic-minded folks decided to prepare Thanksgiving meals and deliver them to people in need.

“This is a great ministry and it helps people of all different classes all across Lee County and surrounding counties,” said Tripp Thrash, one of the volunteers. “It helps people from the very bottom to the very top and everybody in between because everybody can come together and be thankful for something no matter where you came from at home.”

Rick Hagans, pastor and founder of Harvest Evangelism, leads the effort — not just food prep in the tent, but also the volunteer drivers delivering the meals to people in need.

Being good neighbors

“We’re trying to be good neighbors,” Hagans said. “I think that’s one thing that God call us to do and these days and times in America, it seems like there’s too much division. So in the past, a lot of division was settled over a meal.”

Hagans and volunteers delivered food to the Macon and Chambers county jails and the East Alabama Medical Center for the nurses who worked the holiday.

“Nobody should go hungry in America, especially on Thanksgiving,” he said. “So that’s what it is. Jesus commanded us to feed the hungry.”

One man entered the tent and accepted a box of food from a volunteer. Choked up for words, he took the box and a lone seat for his Thanksgiving meal.

“I sure sleep better on Thanksgiving night,” Hagans said. “I feel better. I feel like this is what it’s all about. I’ll go home and have Thanksgiving supper with my family, but this has become my family. The big red tent.”

When the Harvest effort began four decades ago, there was a handful — not dozens — of volunteers and turkeys, Hagans said.

“I remember 40 years ago, we were just going in a neighborhood … we prayed said, ‘Lord, let us find the right house,’” Hagans said. “And that Thanksgiving, it wasn’t like this, it was freezing cold. And we were in a really poor neighborhood of Opelika and we saw a house that looked poorest of the poor. And we both said ‘Let’s go there.’”

Inside the house was a man and his sister. The man sat by the fire, Bible in his lap, legs amputated at the hip. Hagans said the volunteers offered to share a Thanksgiving meal with the two.

“He started clapping his hands and laughing … he said, ‘I told you God would provide, I told you God would provide,’” Hagans said. “So I tell people, God’s answered a lot of prayers for us. But better than God answering your prayers is to be the answer to somebody else’s prayer.”

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