A Thanksgiving Tradition of Service

For many, the changing of the seasons brings excitement, joy and expectancy. We love it when the Texas fall finally hits and the holiday season approaches through whispers of crisp air, the aroma of seasonal goodies and the palpable lifting of spirits. But there are many members of Frisco and surrounding communities who, instead of looking forward to celebrating the holidays with family, friends and loved ones, face the season with a sense of dread, stress and isolation. While much of Frisco is fairly affluent, there is a percentage of the population (3.6 percent, according to the US Census Bureau) that lives at or below the poverty line.

Thankfully there are local organizations people can turn to in their time of need. One such organization is The Samaritan Inn, a comprehensive homeless program based in McKinney. The Samaritan Inn is the largest homeless provider in Collin County, housing 150 to 175 individuals at any given time; approximately one-third of residents are children accompanied by their parents. Different from an emergency shelter, The Samaritan Inn is a transition program, allowing residents free housing, meals, toiletries, clothing and other necessities as they work to get back on their feet. Rick Crocker, CEO of The Samaritan Inn, says that the inn takes a four-pronged approach in assisting their residents: case management, counseling, career development and financial education. The Samaritan Inn invests heavily in their residents, coaching them in life and financial skills to facilitate long-term independent living, rather than taking a “quick fix” approach that perpetuates a cycle of homelessness.

During the holidays, The Samaritan Inn “goes all out” for their residents. Mr. Crocker states that during a resident’s time at the inn, the inn is considered their home, not just a temporary shelter, so staff and volunteers work together to make the holidays as special as possible for them, especially the children under their roof. On Thanksgiving Day, residents are treated to a feast: turkey, dressing and all the details of a traditional Thanksgiving meal. The come-and-go meal is served to residents by volunteers from the community. 

Two such volunteers, sisters Dr. Rhonda Lewis and Renae Johnson, shared their experiences serving at The Samaritan Inn during the holidays. Last year, Dr. Lewis, an English professor at Collin College, her sister, Ms. Johnson, of Jacksonville, Florida and about 30 of their extended family members chose to devote their Thanksgiving family reunion to giving back to others. In 2019, the family financially sponsored and served the Thanksgiving Day meal at The Samaritan Inn, an action they plan to repeat this year. When asked why they serve, Dr. Lewis states that their family thinks it’s important to give back to those less fortunate than themselves. She says that while their family members have secure jobs and financial independence, they recognize “we could all find ourselves in a season of need one day, reliant on good people within the community for help.” 

The sisters and their extended family are also paving the way for future generations, stating that they think it is vital for the children in their family to learn the importance and value of giving back to those less fortunate; they do so by setting an example of selfless service through serving others at The Samaritan Inn on Thanksgiving Day and throughout the year. In fact, the family goes beyond meeting the physical needs of Samaritan Inn residents and relates to them emotionally and spiritually as well. The family loves to unite in singing gospel hymns as they serve and interact with residents, an act that CEO Mr. Crocker says creates infectious joy within the inn, lifting spirits and creating a true sense of community among residents, staff and volunteers. Both the family and the inn are looking forward to gathering for more Thanksgiving Day festivities this November.

In a different manner but with a similar goal, Frisco Family Services is another local non-profit organization committed to supporting those in need. Frisco Family Services is a long-standing Frisco non-profit, proudly celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Frisco Family Services assists a wide range of Frisco residents, from individuals experiencing an unforeseen crisis, such as a job loss or medical issue, to seniors who may struggle to make ends meet on a fixed income. In addition to offering emergency financial assistance, Frisco Family Services operates Frisco’s only food pantry, which serves approximately 700 Frisco and FISD residents each month. During the month of November, Frisco Family Services expects this number to increase due to continued complications from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as participation in their Thanksgiving Meal Program.

Each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Frisco and FISD residents facing a documented crisis are able to drive through the pick-up line in the Frisco Family Services parking lot to pick up the makings of their Thanksgiving meal. The meal package includes all the items needed for families to prepare their own Thanksgiving feast: a turkey with all the sides and fixings, food items for the next morning’s breakfast and even a family-friendly DVD or board game to promote positive family interaction. Last year, approximately 800 individuals received Thanksgiving meals through Frisco Family Services. This year, they expect to serve up to 1,000 people.

The Frisco Family Services Thanksgiving Meal Program is already well-prepared to handle this year’s additional complications stemming from COVID-19. Volunteers consisting of family groups man the Saturday pick-up line, placing the meal items directly into residents’ trunks. One of these family groups is the Mullen family. Mike and Cyndi Mullen, along with their two children, Chris and Kendall, have been involved and volunteering with the Frisco Family Services Thanksgiving Meal Program since 2009. Mr. Mullen, who also serves on the Frisco Family Services Board of Directors, states that his family’s “why” for volunteering stems from his upbringing in which his family put a focus on helping others. He brought this same perspective to his own family, stating that it’s important to take time to help others in the community, because even in the midst of affluence, some still struggle. Mr. Mullen says it’s important to meet the needs of others and make a difference, even if only for one day. Mrs. Mullen adds that serving others through Frisco Family Services brings a sense of personal fulfilment and satisfaction to their family as they work together for the community. The Mullen family chooses to devote their time and resources to Frisco Family Services based on the organization’s track record within the community. Mr. Mullen states that Frisco Family Services is a fine organization with exceptional leadership, staff and volunteer base. Its longevity in the Frisco community speaks to those qualities as well. The Mullen family is committed to making an impact in their hometown by helping their local neighbors through volunteering with Frisco Family Services.

In a season full of busy schedules, to-do lists and holiday stress, making it a priority to serve others may be just what we need to appreciate the blessings and joy of the season. The Frisco community is grateful for volunteers like the Lewis/Johnson and Mullen families who give their time, talents and resources during the holidays and throughout the year.

To make an impact at The Samaritan Inn, visit saminn.org to learn more about volunteer opportunities, review their list of needs, or donate financially. To make an impact through Frisco Family Services, visit friscofamilyservices.org to get connected with volunteer opportunities or to donate financially.

Amy Kryzak is a wife, mom and blogger who loves connecting fellow moms, food in all shapes and forms and loves all things Frisco.

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