HOT SPRINGS -- For the third year, First United Methodist Church in Hot Springs handed out its Boxes of Hope on Tuesday, in preparation for Thanksgiving.
"We started during covid, actually," said Cyndee Metcalf, the business administrator for the church. In 2020, "It was started on the spur of the moment. We just felt like there was so much need, and a lot of places were closed. And so we wanted to do something special for Thanksgiving."
Filled with precooked ham, canned vegetables, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fresh fruit, milk, rolls and pie, the boxes are given on a first-come, first-served basis with no questions asked. A line began to form at the church around 1:30 p.m., 30 minutes before the volunteers were set to begin passing the boxes out.
"We've not been able to source turkey because we definitely want everything to be precooked because not everybody has means to cook," Metcalf said. "Maybe they just have a hot plate, a microwave, nothing at all. Maybe they're on the street, we don't know. So, we always provide a precooked ham."
The church always includes a special gift from the children's ministry in the boxes as well, she said. This year, the children made hand turkeys.
"Just something to show that, you know, we love you and we want to pass that on to you," she said. "It's something that we teach to every age group."
Designed to feed four to six people, the Boxes of Hope are intended to go to anyone in need, Metcalf said.
"It's intended for anyone that has food insecurity and needs to be able and wants to be able to provide for their family or their friends for Thanksgiving."
Instead of hosting its regular weekly food pantry, which takes place on Tuesdays from 2-4 p.m., the church provided the Thanksgiving Boxes of Hope. The weekly pantry is intended to provide the recipients with food for several days, Metcalf said. The church also plans to hand out more Boxes of Hope for Christmas.
"We're an outreach to this community," said Karen Lee, a volunteer who's been involved with the church's food pantry since its beginning. "And if you look around, you can see that there are a lot of people in this community that probably can't afford to have a Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas dinner. So, it's the perfect location and the perfect outreach for our church."
The church started with about 100 boxes to hand out and within about 15 minutes, all of the boxes were passed out, Lee said.
The food boxes were named Boxes of Hope because the church's theme during 2020, the first year they provided the boxes, was hope, Metcalf said.
"We felt like that was something everybody needed during -- especially that first year of the pandemic, and there was so much uncertainty," she said. "And we felt like everybody needed hope.
"A lot of people live in fear when they have food insecurity, and we want to show them that you don't have to live in fear, you can live in hope. So this is our way of providing a little bit."