Ten days ago in the small town of McLaughlin, S.D., many of the residents didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day as most Americans do.
Located 9 miles south of the North Dakota state line on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation at the junction of state Highway 63 and U.S. Highway 12, the Rev. Harvey Schmeichel and his wife, Patti, have seen over the years children and families go hungry for days.
There are no large holiday meals in those homes.
For nearly 19 years at the nondenominational Freedom Fellowship Church, located downtown on Main Street, the couple has ministered in the community by opening their home and the doors of the church to a large segment of the area's population in need of shelter, clothing, transportation, food, a place to worship and a warm meal every weekend. The Schmeichels also send small take-home bags of food with the children as they leave school at the end of the week.
“The church has to be in the community to care for your neighbors,” Patti Schmeichel said. “It’s what the Lord has called us to do. The kids know if they need anything they can come to our house. It’s a lifeline.”
On Nov. 25, a 15-year relationship with Charity Lutheran Church in Bismarck continued as volunteers in a church bus drove to the community loaded with food for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. The holiday meal was a special occasion, but the gesture was nothing new. It’s one of the church’s missionary efforts that, on the last Sunday of every month, volunteers provide a meal for the community at the church.
Bismarck Community Church volunteers provide a meal for the McLaughlin community once a month as well. For the other two Sundays at the Freedom Fellow Church, donated food is provided between the two churches.
Last week, Charity Lutheran Church volunteers Leon Dietrich, Jeff Brown, Della Rae Granrud, Don Nordquist, Duane Bentz and longtime organizer Liz Landis departed Bismarck before sunrise. With a last minute stop at a Mandan grocery store to buy dinner rolls, the group made it to McLaughlin with plenty of time to set up the food before the church service.
The large coolers and boxes filled with four turkeys, two hams, 30 pounds of mashed potatoes, pickles, stuffing, gravy and the makings for a Jello salad were unloaded and carried into the aluminum-sided church.
Patti Schmeichel said: “There will be no hunger today.”
“(The missionary work) makes me feel great and seeing how much they enjoy us coming down once a month and how much Patti and Harvey appreciate us,” said Dietrich, who has been involved with the Sunday meals since the beginning.
In his sermon, Schmeichel thanked the group of volunteers for their generous charity: “Thank you for being a part of building God’s kingdom.”
After the church service, more than 50 adults and children stood in line as the volunteers, wearing T-shirts saying “Live Generously,” began to serve the meal on paper plates. Community members also brought a number of salads and desserts to complete the spread.
The gesture of the once-a-month meal may be small, but its meaning has a bigger impact.
As Sara Hollow sat in the fellowship room eating with her three young children, the foster parent expressed her appreciation for Charity Lutheran’s generosity.
“I am very grateful they take the time out of their lives to do this. It’s good exposure for my children and other children to experience the different outlook of others coming and showing their affection," she said.
“The food’s good and the people are nice,” Rufus Reed Sr. said. “That’s what I like.”
As the people finish eating and are given rides back to their homes by Schmeichel, the leftovers are divided and placed in about a dozen aluminum containers to go to homes in need.
“We are God’s heart, hands and mind,” Landis said. “It’s an honor and privilege to serve God and the connections and relationships we forged with the church and the community. I hope we always serve them with loving hearts.”
“God has a plan for all of us,” Patti Schmeichel said. “We are a 24-7 ministry so it’s nice to have support from outside (the community). You can see the beauty in all of these people.”