With a heavy heart, 63-year-old Janet Easley counted the weeks until the holidays. Normally, she would be jumping into action by now, using the generous donations sent in from those supporting her cause to buy thousands of turkeys, stuffing, canned goods, pies, cookies — all the makings of a delicious holiday dinner — for those in central Indiana who otherwise would have nothing. But this year had roadblocks Janet never expected. Not only was she in pain recovering from recent knee surgery, but there was also the pandemic making it unsafe for people to take part in large gatherings. “Could this really be the end of a decades-long tradition?” she wondered.
Overcome with sadness, Janet placed her hands together in prayer, “Lord, these people are looking for that special holiday meal more than ever with so many having lost their jobs. I have to do something. I won’t feel good in my spirit. Please, show me a way.”
Serving up love.
Janet had been a young woman in her 20s when, one November, an aunt mentioned she was going to be taking part in a Thanksgiving dinner giveaway at the store where she worked. “I’d love to help,” Janet offered. Seeing the people’s gratitude, Janet’s heart filled with so much joy that she volunteered to help out again the next year — and the next. Soon it was an annual tradition. And not just for Janet and her family. Each year, more grateful people showed up to receive a meal.
Seeing the growing need, administrators at the Watkins Family Center, located across the street, offered their facility to house the Thanksgiving event. In time, Janet took on the role of event coordinator, joined by her dear friend Bobbie Jones. And with help from the local news spreading the word, donations mounted. Before long, Janet and Bobbie went from serving 100 dinners to thousands, not just feeding folks at the center on the holiday, but delivering meals to people who were homebound or lived too far to travel to the center. The event became so popular that their church and a local bar and grill also began hosting Thanksgiving dinners to be sure everyone who wanted a meal got one. Last year, Janet and her team fed nearly 10,000 people. The city of Indianapolis so appreciated their generosity that the two women received a proclamation from the mayor declaring November 28th Janet Easley and Bobbie Jones Day in the city.
The women were touched. But they both insisted this wasn’t about them. It was about the people they were helping. That’s why as November drew closer this year. “We have to come through somehow,” Janet told Bobbie, who readily agreed. “We can’t let anything stop this important work we’re doing.” And as they prayed on it, suddenly, the two women came up with a winning idea. They would take the donations and buy frozen turkeys and gift cards to hand out to people who drive up in front of the Watkins Family Center. That way people would have the main course and a way to buy the rest of the fixings for their Thanksgiving meal.
A heartfelt holiday tradition.
The Watkins Family Center embraced the new plan and agreed to hang a banner outside announcing the drive-thru meal giveaways for the holiday. With a big sigh of relief, a happy heart and overflowing gratitude to her team and for God’s timely answer to her prayer, Janet is ecstatic to see tradition march on. Still, it will feel strange to spend Thanksgiving at home — the first ever that she and her husband, Donald, will spend at their own dining room table. “That will be nice,” Janet admits. But she plans to be back at the center next year, doling out meals and love to anyone who needs it.
“A kind deed goes a long way, whether it’s giving a homeless family living out of their car some hope or getting a card with $10 tucked inside from an elderly woman who lives on a pension thanking us for letting her help,” Janet beams. “This project makes people happy. That’s why when I’m asked how much longer I think I’ll be doing this each year, I know my answer — until the good Lord closes my eyes and I can’t do it anymore, which I pray won’t be for a very long time!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.