The Parish Family of Saint John the Evangelist has outdone ourselves this past week in gathering, preparing, and serving over 1600 individuals and families a warm Thanksgiving Meal in Immokalee. There are no words of gratitude that can cover all the members of our church and our community that came together with their time, their talent, and their treasure to truly live out the message Jesus spoke: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25). There are so many groups and individuals that contributed to the Thanksgiving in the Park efforts, and I believe we all owe them a huge thank you.
First, I want to thank The Guadalupe Center, especially Kelly Krupp and her leadership and dedication in the transition of Thanksgiving in the Park to St. John. Kelly ensured every facet of the 36-year-old program seamlessly moved from the Center to our Parish Family. Dawn, Amy, and the rest of The Guadalupe Center staff continued to support our efforts and championed us to the community. We could not have “hit the ground running” without their assistance.
As with almost all the major efforts here at St. John, our Knights of Columbus Council 11281 stepped up in every facet of Thanksgiving in the Park. Bill Warvel led our “Take Your Turkey to Church Weekend”, where our Parish Family responded with over 200 turkeys. The Knights ensured we kept those turkeys and pies safe for our Wednesday preparation day, led by Bill Fuller. Not only did Bill show over 150 volunteers, mostly our Parish Family members, how to pick a turkey clean of all its meat, he ensured every turkey was prepped and ready for the pull. The Knights continued their efforts on Thanksgiving Day, helping to set up the Immokalee AirPort Park, warming and preparing the food, and even delivering over 80 meals to a neighborhood in Immokalee that could not make it to the Park. This program could not have been successful without the Knights of Columbus.
The clergy of our Parish Family showcased the love and commitment to service that is the hallmark of our faith and our mission. Father Bob came out bright and early on Thanksgiving to set up and Father John joined us immediately after St. John’s Thanksgiving Mass. Father John gave the Blessing for our Thanksgiving Meal to the hundreds already gathered in the Park. Both then served the meals directly to those in need, handing the meals to the families, making the children smile with their warmth, and ensuring no one left hungry. We are blessed to have such leaders at our church.
We had the support of several organizations throughout the Naples area. The Ritz Carlton Golf Resort donated two pallets of water to give out at the Park. Oracle Corporation provided 20 turkeys. The Publix at Naples Walk worked tirelessly with the parish to ensure there were enough turkeys to feed everyone. An entire team of Enterprise Rent a Car came to set up the food and water for distribution. DJ Bad Boy provided tables, tunes, and donations of clothing. These organizations’ generosity are a beacon of service to our community.
The volunteers from our Parish Family that donated food, came out to pull turkey at our church, and serve meals in the Park encompass the heart and soul of Saint John the Evangelist. We know there are many of you who could not come out but supported our mission with your prayers and treasure. Thank you to you all for your generosity.
There were several staff members of Saint John that took time out of their lives and went above and beyond to ensure the success of Thanksgiving in the Park. Ovidio and Jesus, our Facilities Staff, packed all the equipment from storage, made sure the turkey pull room was set, and prepared the Park location for all the food service. Ovidio also translated Father John’s Blessing into Spanish for the many families in the Park. Tricia Schwarz assisted with volunteer sign-ups. Natalie Campbell prepared all the mashed potatoes with help from a tiny team. Kyle VanDuser brought out the CYO games and crafts to play with the youth while they waited for food.
Finally, there is one person that Thanksgiving in the Park would never have worked without my wife, Donna. Donna took the lead for every facet of this massive service event. Her organization, collaboration, and communication were unmatched and ensured this service was not only successful in feeding over 1600 people, but had the heart of our faith, loving every person as part of our family. She always makes everyone she meets feel loved and I am blessed and overwhelmed to be able to call her my wife and my soulmate. I love you, Donna. Thank you for what you do for me, our family, and our Parish Family every day!
God Bless you all for your constant support and engagement with our Mission here at St. John! If you would like to take a look at all the pictures from this amazing week’s activities, please see our Thanksgiving in the Park Page.