A SERVANT’S HEART: Generosity of dinner’s namesake lives on through family, friends

0
1276
Lisa Muegge hugs a visitor at the Feast of Plenty in 2015. The photo is emblematic of the type of person she was, her family says. “She just ate, slept and breathed generosity,” her son Joel Hungate says. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Lisa Muegge always had a servant’s heart, a sunny personality and a big smile.

Her three sons were students in Eastern Hancock schools when she launched the idea of putting on a free community meal at the Hancock County Fairgrounds on Thanksgiving Day.

More than 200 meals were served at that first gathering in 2005.

On Thursday, about 2,500 meals were distributed at the 15th annual Lisa Muegge Feast of Plenty, which now bears her name.

Tragically, the woman known for a big heart and even bigger hugs died by suicide on Jan. 28, 2016. She was 52.

Her death sent shock waves throughout the community, where Muegge was known for her gregarious personality and generous spirit.

A photo of Muegge embraced in a bear hug with a person at the Feast of Plenty really sums up the type of person she was, said her eldest son, Joel Hungate, who lives in McCordsville.

“She just ate, slept and breathed generosity,” he said.

“Coming up with something like (the Feast of Plenty) was just second nature for her. She was always looking for a way to give and give extravagantly, no matter the cost. She just wanted to meet the need.”

Her friends and family have carried on the annual feast in her honor.

After dishing out food for so many people on Thursday, organizers can look back and know they’ve served the event’s namesake and founder well.

“You sit back the day after and look at the amount of people that came together to serve, and it’s overwhelming,” Hungate said. “We have so much gratitude for everyone taking time out of their holiday to give hope and love to people who need it most.”

Losing Muegge nearly five years ago has only strengthened her family’s desire to serve.

The event has grown so much, with requests for meals coming from all over central Indiana, that feast organizers are now receiving calls from outside organizations like churches and firehouses willing to help meet the demand.

“It’s just amazing to see how the amount of support has grown. To see this start to evolve from an event at the fairgrounds to something with regional reach has been incredible. It’s really a testament to Mom’s vision,” Hungate said.

Her vision was not just to feed people for a day, but to nourish them with love, providing some human contact to those who might otherwise spend the holiday alone.

Hungate was a junior at Eastern Hancock High School when his mom started pondering the idea of having a community Thanksgiving meal. That first year, he and his brothers were right by her side, serving turkey and all the trimmings to the folks who came through seeking a hot meal and maybe a little companionship.

Muegge would meet each visitor with a smile and sometimes a warm embrace. She elicited the same warmth when she visited inmates as part of a prison ministry, a passion she carried on until the end.

Hungate, 32, who works for Hancock Health overseeing the organization’s three wellness centers, said his mom instinctively knew when people simply needed a little love and compassion, which is why she was so motivated to start the Feast of Plenty.

Throughout the years, he and his brothers — Nathan Hungate, 30, who lives in California; and A.J. Muegge, 21, a junior at Purdue University — have helped out at the event whenever they can, so long as college or family obligations haven’t kept them away.

Since their mother’s death, the brothers have embraced talking about her short-term mental illness and suicide as a way to let their mom’s story benefit others.

The family thinks a change in Lisa’s medication may have factored into her illness, and the family encourages those who are batting depression or anxiety — or those whose loved ones are — to have their medication and behavior monitored closely.

They also speak up whenever they can about the importance of seeking help.

It was hard for his mother to seek or find treatment “without feeling like a crazy person. It goes back to that stigma of mental health,” Hungate said.

“We don’t hold anybody to blame for having heart disease or cancer, so it should be the same thing for mental illness,” he said.

Hungate said he and his brothers know that advocating for awareness of mental illness and carrying on the Feast of Plenty are two of the best ways they could possibly honor their mother.

“I think if she could see it she would just be grinning from ear to ear,” said Hungate. “The Feast of Plenty has grown so much in being the hands and feet of the Lord, which is what she was all about.”

 

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the following resources:

Hancock Health’s System of Care

*collaborative support system for youth and families who need help with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment

317-468-4653

behealthy365.org/about/system-of-care/

Mental Health Partners

*collaborates with community partners to promote mental wellness and fight addiction

317-462-2877

mentalhealthpartnershc.com

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

*provides support opportunities for families, friends and persons living with a mental illness

1-800-950-6264

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

*24-hour hotline

800-273-8255

suicidepreventionlifeline.org

[sc:pullout-text-end]