MIRACLE MEALS: Annual Feast of Plenty provides about 4,000 Thanksgiving dinners

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Volunteers stop for a moment for a group prayer before preparing meals for the start of the Lisa Muegge Feast of Plenty at the Hancock County Fairgrounds. The annual Thanksgiving Day event is a mainstay in Hancock County, where over 500 volunteers prepare thousands of take-home meals for families and individuals. Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

GREENFIELD – Ty Hunt stood before the army of volunteers wearing a shirt that read “FEAST MODE” in big bold letters.

Nearby, small flames flickered beneath trays of steaming food in the Sarah Burke 4-H Exhibit Hall at the Hancock County Fairgrounds Thanksgiving morning.

“Every kernel of corn that’s in that pan – the lord knew there was somebody that needed it,” Hunt said. “Before it was planted in the field, before it was harvested by the farmer, trucked by the trucker, he knew where it was going.”

It was going to thousands of people in and beyond Hancock County awaiting Thanksgiving meals for the 17th annual Lisa Muegge Feast of Plenty.

After serving a couple hundred meals its first year, Hunt said about 4,000 were going out this year to recipients in seven counties. Over 150 turkeys and close to 1,000 bags of groceries were also part of this year’s outpouring of support.

The event is named after the late Greenfield woman who started it, and who often referred to it as “The Miracle on Apple Street.”

“We’re going as far as Indianapolis, Greensburg, New Castle, Anderson,” said Hunt, kitchen lead for the initiative. “We’re touching women’s shelters and the elderly, and we’re touching people that are just new to their communities that maybe don’t have family. I have no doubt Lisa’s smiling. We’re surrounded by her family and we are all family at this point.”

Joel Hungate, Lisa Muegge’s son, noted how the event continues to grow each year, recalling last year’s meal total of just over 3,000. He said organizers noticed a rise in requests as planning got underway and inflation continued its grip on the economy.

“People are feeling the demand, and it’s not just people that are down and out, it’s people that are alone, it’s people that don’t have the means, or people that are recovering from surgery, it’s a massive group of folks that can just be loved on with a meal,” he said between coordinating delivery drivers Thursday morning. “And this year, whether it’s the recessionary pressures, other things going on, people are feeling it. Groceries are expensive, fuel’s expensive.”

Watching all of the efforts come together left him filled with gratitude.

“It always amazes me, no matter how big it gets, the community responds accordingly,” he said.

Jeff Muegge, Lisa’s widower, said it was emotional to watch it all unfold.

“I know she would be so happy,” he said. “…If it wasn’t for this community, this never happens. The outpouring of support, it’s a true blessing.”

As the Feast of Plenty grew bigger, Lisa Muegge tasked her friend Janelle Burkhart with calling people who have requested meals, an effort that starts in mid-October and goes up until the day before Thanksgiving. Burkhart often hears about the experiences of those requesting the meals.

“Several families have been hit very, very hard by the grocery situation,” she said. “Families that have been hit by illness, death, or just the elderly that call in and they don’t have a place to go, there’s nobody to spend Thanksgiving with.”

They often feel obligated to share their reasons for seeking a meal.

“But that was always Lisa’s thing: You do not have to have a reason to call in,” Burkhart said. “It can be somebody that just doesn’t feel like cooking, and we’re going to bring the meals no questions asked. We don’t have to know why. The beauty of this ministry was it’s just about coming together and filling the need. She would definitely be amazed how large this has grown.”

Christie Hammelman, her husband Jason and their three daughters volunteered Thursday by packing and delivering meals. The couple worked with Lisa Muegge at Elanco Animal Health.

“This has become kind of a family tradition for us to come out here and honor her and help the community at the same time,” Christie Hammelman said.

Devin Hamilton was there Thursday as well to bring food to a Feast of Plenty satellite location in Carthage, a representation of the initiative’s growth. He’s owner and president of Heros Helping Hearts, which serves those who have struggled with mental illness and suicide. He started the organization in 2021 after his own battle with mental health and a suicide attempt. The group recently named one of its scholarship funds after Lisa Muegge, who died from suicide in 2016.

The Feast of Plenty aligns with his organization’s mission for mental health, Hamilton said.

“We’re here to fight for that,” he said. “We’re here to give those people hope that it’s going to be OK if they are struggling. That’s what we’re here for. We are here to help them get over that hurdle and to basically know it’s OK not to be OK. And we’re here to give them that peace of mind that on this holiday, you’re going to be OK. We’ve got you covered.”

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