In many ways, the Without Walls Ministry gathering in Hampton Park on Thursday resembled the very first Thanksgiving.
It brought together people of various races, religions and backgrounds for the sole purpose of sharing a meal and making new friends. Hundreds gathered in the park Thursday morning, some sitting together at tables lining a soccer field, others lounging on the grass under a bright Lowcountry sun.
"We're not here as Baptists, Methodists or Episcopalians," said George Kugblenu, assistant pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church on James Island. "This is a glimpse of how Heaven is going to look. It's a tapestry. We are fulfilling the mandate in the Bible of Christians, taking care of the poor and the needy."
The ministry did not have an exact count, but the event was so popular that by 11:30 organizers had to send for more food, provided and prepared by the congregations of local churches. Some of the folks were homeless, but others came from West Ashley, Mount Pleasant, and James and Johns islands. And a few just stumbled onto the gathering and stopped for a visit.
Rosenia Johnson ate with her sister,
Emily Lancit, and her granddaughter, Amber Blackwell. The 10-year-old Blackwell approved of the meal, turkey, macaroni and cheese, green beans and collards.
"We were just walking by and saw this and decided to join in," Johnson said. "We didn't have any plans so we decided to make new friends."
Without Walls Ministry, founded by Pastor Gordon Cashwell, is an association of churches that provides community outreach for people, often supplying grocers, health screenings and other services for anyone who needs it.
Their Thanksgiving feast has been a tradition here for more than a decade.
"Anyone who needs to be fed is welcome," said Vermell Meaders of the Hope Assembly of God church.
As part of the event, volunteers were giving away Bibles and donated clothing. Chiquetta Wright of Emmanuel Baptist invited everyone to "Take what you need and as much as you need."
Across the Lowcountry, various groups were providing a similar service for people. East Cooper Meals on Wheels volunteers distributed 1,000 meals. The Neighborhood house on America Street had food for 150. And the doors were open at Crisis Ministries, with Thanksgiving fare on the menu. The dining room was light on diners, however, as most people were drawn to Hampton Park and the Without Walls feast.
Perhaps that's because the ministry has such a broad reach into the community. Many of the hundreds of volunteers who showed up to help with the Thanksgiving dinner were the same people served by the ministry, Robert Eaddy among them.
"I wasn't doing anything else right now, so I thought I'd come down," Eaddy said. "They are doing a good job."
It was a word of thanks heard often in Hampton Park on Thursday.
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.