OC alumni brothers build on dad's deeds Thanksgiving all-volunteer effort delivers free holiday meals

Oklahoma Christian University alumni Neil and Jimmy Arter recall their gregarious father cooking turkeys for Thanksgiving and giving a few to neighbors in their hometown of Lindsay.

The brothers’ memories of Wesley Arter’s holiday good deeds provided the impetus for Thanksgiving Day in the City, an all-volunteer, Mobile Meals-type effort at Memorial Road Church of Christ.

“When we grew up, Dad cooked turkeys, and he would take them to people who were less fortunate,” Jimmy Arter said.

Now living in the metro area, Neil Arter said that several years ago he and his brother felt their Thanksgiving traditions wouldn’t be the same after their grandfather died. So, in 2003, they decided to replicate their father’s charitable footsteps with a holiday meal in the city.

The brothers said they knew many people who were going to be alone for Thanksgiving for one reason or another. Some had family who would not be visiting or perhaps their grown children would be spending the holiday with their in-laws. Others were elderly or invalids who could not travel. Some were just planning to eat a sandwich that day, or perhaps a loved one had died recently, and the family was not planning a big meal.

The Arters and several members of their congregation met at the church several days before Thanksgiving 2003 and began cooking the traditional holiday meal. The brothers said 257 meals were delivered for the first Thanksgiving Day in the City. The effort’s name is a play off the name of the church’s annual community service project blitz called Day in the City.

The Arters said Thanksgiving Day in the City has grown through the efforts of church volunteers who love serving others. Also, people in the community have become accustomed to the idea and allow the church to offer the free meal as a comfort during the holiday.

Jimmy Arter said the first year, volunteers noticed that some fuel station attendants worked on Thanksgiving, and they took them meals. Then volunteers began taking meals to families spending the day in the waiting room of Edmond Memorial Hospital.

“The patients were fed by the hospital, so we fed the families that were there that year. Now the hospital is on our rotation every year,” he said.

The brothers said the cooking starts on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and some church members have made it a tradition to get together to peel potatoes and perform other necessary tasks.

On Thanksgiving Day, the first volunteers show up at the church about 6 a.m., with the first meals going out about 10 a.m.

The Arters said about 350 volunteers work to pull off Thanksgiving Day in the City. They said the OC women’s basketball team helped one year. Neil Arter, vice president for student life and dean of students at the university, said the visiting team that planned to play Oklahoma Christian that weekend also helped serve meals.

After all the meals have been delivered, the volunteers meet at the church to eat their holiday meal together. The Arters said time is allotted for volunteers to share testimonies of their deliveries. Jimmy Arter said volunteers always say they are blessed to be able to deliver the tangible support of a meal, along with a word of encouragement. Neil Arter said some church members don’t deliver meals, but may cook one of about 215 pies served each year.

“It’s a cool way for them to get involved,” Neil Arter said. “They know their house will be full that day, but someone else’s may be a little quieter.”

Last year, the church reached out to area schools through the school counselors. Jimmy Arter said they think they will be called on to deliver more meals this year due to the still-troubled economy. He said church members wanted to make sure they reached out to the families of schoolchildren.

Neil Arter said it can be expensive for a family to cook the traditional Thanksgiving meal, and this may be the year some break with tradition and opt out of cooking the feast.

That’s where Thanksgiving Day in the City can be a blessing, the way it was designed to be, the brothers said.

They estimated the church effort provides the free meal of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce and pie for less than $3 a meal.

It’s a win-win for everyone, they said.

Meanwhile, Neil Arter said the brothers typically eat their traditional holiday meal with all the other volunteers on Thanksgiving Day, but that evening, they take their families to a local restaurant.

“That night, we want to eat anything but turkey!”

By Carla Hinton, Courtesy of the Oklahoman

By the Numbers – Thanksgiving Day in the City

Thanksgiving meals delivered in 2003, the first year of Thanksgiving Day in the City.
Thanksgiving meals delivered through the program last year.
Thanksgiving meals expected to be delivered for the 2009 event.
Turkeys prepared for the first Thanksgiving Day in the City meals. 
Turkeys will be prepared for this year’s event.
Pounds of mashed potatoes will be prepared. 
Pounds of corn will be prepared.
Pounds of cranberries will be prepared.
Homemade pies will be sliced and served.