WILMINGTON — The last time Pine Valley Methodist Church parishioners were in the kitchen preparing Christmas Eve dinner for those in need was before Covid-19. Around 4,500 hot meals were cooked and assembled before being distributed to the community Dec. 24.
It’s a tradition that has been taking place for 16 years. The program began in 2006 by church member George Hale, who wanted a meaningful way to help sate hunger for many during the winter holiday. The first year he and his family were able to provide 200 meals to the community.
“He had some connections with a couple of recovery houses and others,” PVMC Pastor Tim Reaves said. “Then it just started growing from there and the church started sponsoring it.”
The pandemic stifled outreach to packages of nonperishable food items for families to cook at home, but this year Reaves said hundreds of volunteers have been behind the stove once again. They’re cooking hams, green beans and mashed potatoes, as well as preparing and packaging desserts for more than 3,000 people.
The hams are donated every December by individuals, as are desserts. The church purchases the side items.
“It’s a free dinner for anybody that wants one,” Reaves said. “We don’t ask questions. If somebody comes to pick up meals for three families, we will fix it.”
Community members are welcome to collect boxed dinners from the church walkup window — 3788 Shipyard Blvd. — from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve. For those looking for camaraderie, anyone can join a seat at the table in the fellowship hall or in the heated tent pitched outside. There is room for around 250 people to have dinner with the congregation.
“We eat together and that’s been a powerful experience,” Reaves said. “The community can also attend one of our Christmas services, but that’s not required to get a meal.”
Services take place at 3 p.m., 5 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.
The church extends its outreach beyond its grounds and works with local organizations and shelters to provide meals for Christmas. It will be sending bulk dinners to the Salvation Army and local recovery houses, as well as delivering hams to fire departments.
Pine Valley also sends 1,000 meals to the Cape Fear Volunteer Center, which disperses to other area agencies.
“We’re sending meals to the Wilmington Warming Shelter this weekend, too,” Reaves added.
The pop-up shelter will be hosting homeless individuals Friday through Sunday evenings, as temperatures drop to the 20s. Provisions provided free of charge include cots, food and personal care items.
Reaves said homeless camps in the area also will receive food. Upward of 200 people are slated to volunteer. The church is sending a Christmas card, new socks and possibly hats out with deliveries.
“We’ll put the plates together Friday afternoon and Saturday morning,” he said. “Everybody takes part in a different thing: We got people volunteering to make deliveries. We got people volunteering to pick up hams starting tomorrow morning.”
Volunteers are still being accepted to see through Pine Valley Methodist’s 2022 Christmas Eve Outreach and can contact the church at 910-791-0353 for more information.
“Our aim is to make sure nobody in Wilmington is hungry at Christmas,” Reaves said.
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