The student athletes were required to stay on campus to play in the annual Thanksgiving Classic tournament, but with the college’s cafeteria closed for the holiday they were expected to fend for themselves.
“They can’t go home because they’re playing, and they get hungry,” Rosie Eddy told The Baptist Paper.
Serving 19 years
She provided the athletes with Thanksgiving dinner for 19 years, but physically unable to do so anymore, connected with Boyd Avenue Baptist this summer to ask if the church might be interested in hosting the meal.
Eddy said she’d heard from friends that the Southern Baptist congregation was good about helping in the community.
“It makes me sad the athletes are not able to be with their families,” Eddy said. “Several of them are international students who don’t have a day of Thanksgiving in their home countries, and this is a way to show American generosity and kindness.”
When Boyd Avenue’s senior pastor, Ed Tharp, heard of the need for a place willing to host the Thanksgiving dinner, he discussed it with church leaders, and they prayed about it, knowing their ability to host the meal depended on the completion of their multipurpose activities center. The center ended up being ready to go less than a month before the dinner.
The Nov. 24 event exceeded everyone’s expectations.
“It was excellent,” Tharp said. “It was a great way to build relationships with athletes on campus and the athletic department. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long-lasting tradition.”
The church’s outreach coordinator, Melissa Trujillo, organized the collection of enough food from church members to feed about 175 people, located cooks familiar with preparing for large groups, and directed volunteers to assist with setting up tables and cleaning up afterward — in addition to making friends with the athletes.
Shirley Allen from Rapid City, South Dakota, and Nancy Macintyre from Sheridan, Wyoming, coordinated the meal. They worked in Boyd Avenue’s multipurpose center commercial kitchen, where they cooked four hams and 16 turkeys donated by Smith’s Food and Drug, and Banner Health Medical Center. The cooks and church volunteers prepared side dishes: mounds of mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing, vegetables, fruit trays, relish dishes and more. Desserts were provided by dozens of other Boyd Avenue members.
‘An entire church effort’
The Baptist Collegiate Ministries group at Casper College served the buffet-style meal as a way of connecting one-on-one at the dinner, and later at the college with the athletes.
Monetary donations from members came to $550, but only $450 was needed, so “we saved $100 for next year,” Trujillo said. “It’s going to be bigger next year. This year we hosted 75 basketball players and the athletic department. Next year we’re going to add the soccer players and any other students stuck at the school over Thanksgiving.
“This was an opportunity to minister to college students, which we don’t always get to do,” she continued. “It was an entire church effort. We couldn’t have done it without the support of so many people in the church.”
Even after take-home boxes were made for all the athletes’ next-day lunches, there was still so much food left that volunteers took Thanksgiving dinners to the homebound across Casper. Still more was frozen for the church’s upcoming Wednesday night suppers.
“They gave us some season passes, and some of our people are going to be going to the games and building relationships with the athletes,” Tharp said. “The men’s basketball and soccer coaches both talked with us about doing soccer and basketball camps in the off-season, summer and winter. This will help build those relationships with the athletes and help us do outreach in our community.”
Boyd Avenue, where some 250 people attend Sunday services in person and online, reaches out with special events throughout the year to raise awareness of the church in the community. There’s an Easter egg hunt, Vacation Bible School kickoff, Back to School Bash, Fall Festival and more, in addition to partnering with Love in Action to provide food and presents at Christmas for lower-income families.
“We do these to help bring more people to Christ and to our church,” Trujillo said. “It always amazes me how we come together to show Christ to our community.”