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Pastor Wilkerson seated at table in church's backroom.

A small parish pulls together, provides Thanksgiving meals to 150 families

on November 19, 2012

The House of Prayer Ministries, located near Nevin and 2nd Street in the Iron Triangle, only has about 20 church members. It’s a small parish, but lead Pastor Kenneth E. Wilkerson says it’s a strong one with deep love for people in the area.

“We have a heart for this community, for Richmond,” said Wilkerson, while sitting in the church’s small back room and watching his “worker bees” buzz around clearing plates from people who stopped in for a hot meal.

Those 20 church members, though, made a big difference this year in the church’s annual turkey-and-fixings giveaway. Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of The House of Prayer Ministries meal-giveaway. Last year Wilkerson estimates they gave out a couple hundred baskets, and this year he was hoping to give out 400 baskets and recyclable grocery bags.

At the last minute, the main backer of the meal giveaway pulled its donation and left Wilkerson reeling.

“I literally cried for a week,” Wilkerson said softly. “I almost shut down.”

Wilkerson is a product of North Richmond; he grew up on its pot-holed streets and spent his entire life in the city. “I am a Richmond boy,” he said, chuckling. That’s why it hurt so much when he found out the church wouldn’t be able to feed as many people as he’d hoped, and advertised, it would on Sunday.

“I love these people. I know these people it was going to help,” Wilkerson said, his eyes bright and voice strained. “They need the turkeys. That’s what they come for, and a lot of people will be hurt because of that.”

Last Thursday, Wilkerson went before his congregation and told them about the setback. Rallying to the challenge, church members chipped in what they could and among them raised several hundred dollars. That money, combined with donations from FoodMax, Food Co, Wal-Mart and Contra Costa Foodbank, allowed the church to give away 75 grocery bags stuffed with a turkey and produce (canned and fresh) and serve 150 hot plates of homemade food.

“They want me to cook the candied yams all the time,” Eula Newsome said as she cleaned up leftovers from a tray of her signature dish.

“I cook like Mississippi. Not Californian food,” she said, laughing. “You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.”

Rhonda Gardner, a Richmond resident, has come every year to get a turkey. She was one of the lucky families to receive a bag this year too. “It’s really a blessing,” she said. “I’m a foster parent of two and it helps a lot.”

Wilkerson said that despite the setback he’s grateful for the people the church was able to help this year. “These are tough times,” he said. “I’ve seen tears in their eyes and people were just thankful that somebody was able to help them out.”

The hot meals and bags of food were gone within a half an hour of the church opening its doors. Next year, Wilkerson said, he’ll handle it differently—he won’t rely on a backer, just on his members.

“Starting in January we’ll create a fund for members to donate money to monthly for Thanksgiving,” he said.

Of course, if any corporations or other donors want to give them money he said he won’t turn them away—he’s just done depending on them.

“We’re taking matters into our own hands,” Wilkerson said.

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