For the eighth year in a row, Pastor Bill Ferguson and members of Gateway Church of God volunteered their time and money to spend Thanksgiving helping out families in need.
The church, with help from Indian Land residents, collected enough food to feed 329 families in Harlan, Ky., a rural area where poverty affects a high percent of the residents. The church's youth group helped raise $875 for travel expenses and accommodations on the trip.
In Harlan, Ferguson and four volunteers from the church met with other volunteers from more than 10 states. The annual program is sponsored by the Church of God Men and Women of Action together. The church volunteers passed out boxes of food, toys, coats, blankets, candy and stockings at a senior citizens center and to the families that stood in line for over half a mile to receive the donations.
"We went last year to Harlan and went back because of the obvious need. The conditions seemed worse," Ferguson said. "Even though our people in this area are starting to have it hard now, we're living like kings compared to the people up there. This is what we see when we go. It's unreal this can be happen ing in America. It's almost criminal the way these people have been neglected."
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Ferguson describes the families he saw as malnourished. The children are often dirty from lack of access to running water and some families live in homes that have dirt floors, he said.
He was also shocked by the number of disabled people he saw in need of help.
The volunteers from Gateway Church of God were hosted by Dressen Church of God in Harlan. The small, 30-member church cannot afford a parsonage for its pastor. Instead, the pastor and his wife live in a small room inside of the church.
While in Harlan, the volunteers helped patch the roof on the church and repair a wall that was deteriorating. They also raised funds to donate to the church, to help pay for utilities.
Ferguson recalled a special moment last year; He said he felt led by God to give one of the needy residents $20. This year, the man returned to see Ferguson and said that he and his family are now regular attendees at church.
"They are in church regular now because someone showed him a bit of love," Ferguson said. "It's the other side of the gospel. We study and preach all year long, but this is actually putting it into action. Christ said take care of the poor, you know, and that's been my reason for going these years."