LOUISVILLE, Ky. — While Wayside Christian Mission has been running its yearly Thanksgiving meal service for more than a decade, this year’s event marks something special—a return to full-scale operations for the first time since the onset of COVID-19.
“We're happy to be back without all the COVID restrictions,” Nina Moseley, chief operating officer of Wayside Christian Mission, said. “We're very excited, we're looking forward to a great day.”
Approximately 350 volunteers started their Thanksgiving holidays bright and early, preparing three, festive meals for people to eat during breakfast, lunch and dinner-service.
The morning meal was served between 6:45 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Thursday. Residents received a classic breakfast combination of bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy.
For the lunch and dinner service, Wayside said it’s prepared around 40 turkeys.
Moseley said the holiday meals are typically reserved for shelter residents. However, Wayside is also hosting a cookout in its parking lot, at Hotel Louisville.
Volunteers working the cookout will serve cheeseburger and fries to anyone looking for a holiday meal—though, Moseley said, if a non-shelter resident requests turkey, they likely won’t be turned down.
According to Mosley, volunteers are preparing more than 1,000 meals this Thanksgiving.
Along with serving up hot meals, Wayside’s holiday celebration includes live entertainment—bands, a DJ, a dance party and a tote giveaway.
“[It’s] just a lot of activities to help people enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday,” Moseley said. “This is a special time for people to be in the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving. That's a pretty low point. So, we try to [help] them realize the community loves, that they’re cared for.”
Founded in 1957, Wayside was the first ever rescue mission to call Louisville home. In the more-than 60 years since, Wayside has operated with the goal of walking “in the path of Christ and minister to all people who find themselves in desperate situations, often lost, confused and without directions.”
In November 2020, amid the onset of the pandemic and navigating COVID-19 restrictions, the mission was forced to scale back its service.
That year, Wayside went from serving its usual 3,000 meals with the help of 1,000 volunteers on Thanksgiving Day to virtually no meals and no volunteers.
“It was difficult. [We] we didn't have any of our normal things going on. We did have a cookout in the parking lot for people but nothing like normal,” Moseley said.
In 2021, Moseley said things got a little better, when the rescue mission was able to bring its volunteers back.
While Wayside put on a full-scale event this year, Moseley said its staffing numbers remained lower than expected.
“We're hoping to get a lot of our volunteers back [this year]. We had about 300 sign up online but that is nowhere near close to the numbers that we had prior to COVID,” Moseley said.
During the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday, Wayside logged in at over 1,300 volunteers during the course of the day.
“We're not expecting to reach that high again,” Moseley said. “But we do hope our regular volunteers will see us and will know that they can come back.”
Nonetheless, Moseley said the work-ethic of volunteers helped lessen the impact of lower participation numbers.
“Volunteers don't want to give up their holiday and come and do nothing they want to work. And so we have to be ready to place them where they can work, so that they have a good experience as well,” Moseley said.
It was a positive, and grateful environment, inside Hotel Louisville Thursday, where it was evident everyone had something to be thankful for this holiday. Moseley said the impact these services can have on shelter residents cannot be underscored enough.
“We try to give [shelter residents] some good memories to take with them when they leave Wayside. Hopefully when they're back out on their own and doing well, they will come back and serve others,” she said. “We do have some volunteers here today, who at one time were recipients of our services, so they understand the need to give back and to make others feel welcome.”