BRADENTON -- The annual community Thanksgiving meal at First United Methodist Church will be bountiful.
There will be pork, green beans, black beans and rice, mashed potatoes. Plenty of homemade pie, too.
For Pastor Adam Zele, though, today's gathering isn't just about the repast lovingly prepared by devoted church members for the needy and homeless.
It means much more.
Zele, who has been pastor 18 months, found that out in wrenching fashion at his first Thanksgiving here.
"The stories I got from last year were about absolute heartbreak, people wanting to reach out and try to reconnect with family," he said Wednesday. "Thanksgiving just really brings out how alone they are, how much they miss their family, how much they remember what Thanksgiving was like when they were children."
The conversations are emotional, but Zele, a man of the cloth for 13
years, has much compassion.
"Being able to sit there, talk with them, hold their hands and be there with them for a while means more than the pork or beans we might serve," he said. "To be able to share that moment with them, with friends, build that sense of community with them is so important."
Linda Johnson agreed.
A church member since 1975, she's understands the impact of the temporary refuge people will receive today.
"We see some of the same faces and some new faces," said the church kitchen coordinator. "Unfortunately, we're seeing more families, homeless children, people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. It's not a happy picture."
Church members do what they can to make things better.
Volunteer Beck McGowin, a lifelong congregant, is one.
"It's important to reach out to the community we have here, be able to help them in some way," she said.
"Thanksgiving is about being around family and a lot of these people aren't connected closely with a family. This is a way we can make them feel like there's family here for them."
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.