By Laura McAlister
Scott Swedenburg always wanted the holidays to be more about giving than getting in his family, so before the first present is unwrapped or turkey dinner devoured, his family piles up in the car and heads to downtown Birmingham.
Scott, his wife Kathie and sons Jake and Matt have been volunteering at the Jimmie Hale Mission for nearly 15 years. Though they help out at the downtown shelter throughout the year, they most enjoy lending a hand during the holidays.
“I think my favorite time is Christmas,” he said. “That’s when we, as a family, deliver meals. We go out and serve Christmas dinners to those who can’t get out.
“It’s just a great reminder about how blessed you are when you see how these people are so excited just to get a meal.”
Throughout the year, the Jimmie Hale Mission serves meals to the area’s homeless. But during the holiday season, mealtime takes on a new meaning, just as it does in households across the country.
On Thanksgiving Day, the mission will serve up hundreds of traditional Thanksgiving dinners with turkey, dressing and all the trimmings. They’ll do the same on Christmas Eve. They rely on volunteers like Swedenburg family to get the massive job done.
“The Jimmie Hale Mission values all our donors and volunteers,” said Tony Cooper, executive director. “God works through people, and we are extremely blessed by those who share their time and resources with the mission. Thanksgiving provides an opportunity for us to give thanks and share our blessings with those less fortunate.
“Thanks to those who not only give thanks but ‘give back!’ As you share with the mission, you are making an investment in the lives of those in need.”
So far, said Bonnie Hendrix, spokesperson for Jimmie Hale Mission, the mission has in-house servers for their three organizations – Jimmie Hale, Jessie’s Place and the Royal Pines Recovery Center – for Thanksgiving, but they are still looking for volunteers like the Swedenburgs.
“We need drivers,” she said. “We need people to deliver to seniors and shut-ins. Really, it only takes about two hours, at the most three, and once you’re done, you can go home and enjoy the rest of the day.
“It’s really a great thing the whole family can do together.”
The Swedenburg family started delivering meals on Christmas Eve when their youngest son Matt, now 17, was about four years old.
Scott, who also serves on the Jimmie Hale board and is a member of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, said it was a way to show their children just “how incredibly God has blessed us,” he said. Now, it’s a family tradition they all look forward to.
Scott said they chose Jimmie Hale because he can see the good the organization does each time he delivers a meal.
“You can really see the difference that it makes in men and women’s lives,” he said, “for people who have lost everything and just hit rock bottom. Through the Jimmie Hale Mission, we’re helping changes lives and share the love of God. It’s truly something exciting to be a part of.”
Be it Christmas Eve or Thanksgiving, Bonnie said the drill is basically the same for drivers. They arrive at the mission downtown around 10 a.m. to pick up their routes and load up the dinners.
“We try to keep all the stops in a particular area, so you won’t be driving all around town,” Bonnie said. “We’ll meet at the chapel, and Tony Cooper will say a few words and run through the process.”
As of Nov. 10, about 24 drivers had signed up to deliver about 370 Thanksgiving Day meals that have been requested. Bonnie said they need about 46 more drivers, as well as about 10 back-up drivers.
Sign-up for Christmas starts Dec. 1. Bonnie said they’ll need both drivers and on-site servers for all three locations.
For those who can’t donate time, Bonnie said monetary donations also go a long way during the holidays and throughout the year.
“Just $1.95 feeds a homeless and hungry man, woman or child; $19.50 feeds 10, $39 feeds 20 and so on,” she said. “That’s a constant need.”
For more information or to sign up to volunteer over the holidays, call 323-5878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.