Story By Hannah Goldfinger
Photos Contributed By Harvest Evangelism
This year, Harvest Evangelism will host its annual Thanksgiving event, more than 30 years in the making.
“I work all over the world with poor and needy people and I’m glad that I do,” said Rick Hagans, founder of Harvest Evangelism. “It’s always a blessing. I’ve been to India, I’ve been to Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, I’ve been to inner-city New York. … So I’ve seen need, but I also live here and I see need here. So, we decided just probably  years ago, let’s try to feed a few neighbors.”
The Thanksgiving event was born from Hagans’ desire to meet that need, along with a college buddy of his, Greg Glynn.
They prepared five boxes of Thanksgiving food and decided to drive around delivering them.
“In Auburn and Opelika, if you are impoverished food-wise, you’re also impoverished transportation-wise,” Hagans said. “You could have a gourmet meal somewhere but if the people can’t get there, it doesn’t do any good.”
Hagans said that over the years, some Thanksgivings have been warm, others cold. And this first year was one of those freezing cold years.
“We were in a neighborhood that we knew to be poor and needy, and we knew some people there, and there was a little bitty clapboard house,” Hagans said, “This was in Opelika — the house doesn’t exist anymore — but it was close by Pepperrell Parkway and industry and commerce and business but this was just a little poor house and smoke was coming out the chimney cause it was cold.
“… We went up to this house, knocked on the door and [Glynn] was holding the box and so I went inside first. And the first thing I noticed is the chimney wasn’t drawing the smoke very well, so it was a smoky room. They just had one light hanging down from a cord in the middle of the ceiling. And there was an old elderly man, African American man, sitting in a wheelchair, in a wheelchair now, right by the fireplace. And two things you never forget; number one, is he was sitting by the fireplace reading his Bible.
“… The second thing I noticed, he’s in a wheelchair because he doesn’t have any legs. His legs have been amputated at his hips. So, I mean, he has zero legs, just a stump of a man propped up there reading a Bible in that smoky haze. And so, I told him, “Sir, listen, we’ve really been blessed this Thanksgiving and we have some extra food and we’d be honored to give it to you if it wouldn’t be offensive.’ And he started clapping his hands. … A lady came from the back room and, again, an elderly lady … he said, ‘I told you God would provide. I told you God would provide.’ So, here we were, God had sent us there.”
Hagans said that he and Glynn gave them the food and prayed over the two.
“I remember thinking as I left, ‘It’s always a powerful feeling, always a good feeling, when God answers your prayer, but it’s an even better feeling when you’re the answer to someone else’s prayer,’” Hagans said.
This was the beginning of a thirty-plus year tradition.
Harvest Evangelism includes His Place and Hosanna Home.
But the Thanksgiving event has continued each year, even as ministries have changed.
From that first year with five meals, the second year with 20, the third with 100, the event has grown and last year it was 2,700 meals.
By the third year, 100 people were showing up to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning, too, Hagans said.
“My volunteers say, ‘We live for this one day a year,’” he said. “‘Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without this opportunity.’”
Eventually, the event had to be held under a large circus tent, it was well-attended. There are two meals, actually, Wednesday evening — which is a sit down meal — and Thursday, Thanksgiving.
This year, Hagans said the goal is to have the Wednesday night meal at Lakeview Baptist Church, where it’s been held the last couple of years.
Hagans recently bought a food trailer, too, which helps with food distribution and opportunities.
Harvest Evangelism also serves meals to the local jails — Tallapoosa, Macon, Chamber Counties.
There’s still room for opportunities to volunteer this year, too, or for those who need a meal for themselves or someone they know.
Contact Harvest Evangelism for both of these things.
“What we’ve found is that some people are not just hungry, they’re really lonesome,” Hagans said.