STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Thanksgiving comes early to some metro Detroit families

Break out the turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and's Thanksgiving time!

But a grand Thanksgiving feast is often out of the question for many families in poverty. So the folks at New Hope Baptist Church in Wayne, Michigan are doing their part to help ensure that students from a nearby school don't go hungry this holiday season.

"We just wanted to show some love," says Virgil Humes, the church's pastor. We want to "show them that we believe in helping the community, and those that might not have a thanksgiving meal, we wanted to show them that we can serve them a Thanksgiving meal so that certainly they won’t be hungry."

Two big yellow school buses pull up to the church around 4:30 p.m. on the Monday before Thanksgiving. The buses are jam packed with parents and students from nearby Myers Elementary, where more than 90% of the school’s families live in poverty.

It’s freezing cold outside, but inside the church, the warmth is palpable. Sure the heater’s on, but the general good vibes and hugs and smiles from the church volunteers also go a long way to make everyone feel warm and welcome.

One person from each family grabs a raffle ticket as they make their way toward the pews. Once all 200 or so people are in their seats, the mini-service before the big turkey dinner begins.

Deacon Patrick Mirage stands at the front of the front of the pews, mic in hand, ready to get the crowd energized. "It’s good to have you all here on this Thanksgiving Monday,"  he says. "We want you to sit back, relax and enjoy yourselves. You’ll be introduced, entertained and spiritually lifted by our youth."

To be clear, this is not a mandatory school field trip. The trip is voluntary, since there is a strong religious aspect to it. For those who do choose to come, there’s singing, dancing, a tree lighting ceremony, and a couple drill team performances.

Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Three young girls from Myers Elementary were chosen to light the Christmas tree

There's also a raffle. For this particular raffle, every family is a winner. Some baskets have non-perishable food in them, others have household goods like detergent and soap and towels. All of it donated by members from the church.

Once the last raffle ticket number is called, it’s time to head into the kitchen, where the smell of 50 cooked turkeys wafts through the hallway. That’s right: 50 cooked turkeys. And enough stuffing, potatoes, green beans and corn to feed an army.

This church has been serving a pre-Thanksgiving dinner to families from Myers for eight years now.

Carmesha Hunt is grateful to have a warm meal tonight. She has seven young mouths to feed, which is incredibly difficult when money’s tight. This Thanksgiving, she’s thankful for a few things: for the church for serving the meal, for her family, and for "just having a place to stay and not being on the streets right now." She says coming to tonight's Thanksgiving church event helped "life my spirits a little bit."

And the thanks don’t stop there. Students from Myers said they were thankful for a whole host of things - everything from their teachers to their siblings to "having a good family."

The official motto at Myers Elementary is Be Respectful, Be Responsible and Be Safe. For this week, at least, it sounds like “Be Thankful” is also on the list.

Jennifer is a reporter with Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and worked as a producer for WFUV in the Bronx.