The holidays–from Thanksgiving through New Year– bring joy, fun, parties, giving and getting, family reunions, lots of music — and help for the needy.
One such holiday tradition in Chestertown is the Feast of Love, held Christmas day at First United Methodist Church on High Street. A full Christmas dinner, featuring turkey and a wealth of tasty side dishes and desserts, the Feast originated in 1984. Discontinued after about 10 years, it was revived in 2007 by then-pastor Rick Vance and has carried on ever since under the guidance of Yvonne Arrowood. Christmas music, including the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, is a part of the tradition. The meal is open to all, without reservations or payment — donations are accepted to help defray the costs, though many of the dishes are donated. Volunteers do the cooking, serving, and clean-up.
This year’s feast drew a full house — around 200 attendees. They included college students, seniors, singles and family groups — in short, anyone who has no local family to join for the holiday meal, or who would like to spend part of the holiday with a larger “family.” It’s not unusual for families to bring out-of-town relatives to the feast. The church also sponsors a free community dinner every Monday at 5:30 pm except holidays.
This was the second year that the Chester River Valley Ministers’ Association (CMVA) organized a community caroling event. The CVMA is a group of local ministers and lay people organized to support a variety of programs for the needy in Kent and Northern Queen Anne’s Counties. Last year well over 100 people came together in Fountain Park. This year, on account of rainy weather, the event was moved indoors to First United Methodist Church. But despite the drizzle, about 50 people came out to raise their voices in joy for the season. Stephanie King accompanied on piano, and a brass quintet from the Salvation Army played several carols. In addition to the Christmas carols and songs, the program included three Hanukkah songs, led by Cantor Gary Schiff, and two texts for Kwanzaa read by Reverand Bobby Brown.
In addition to bringing people together to sing, the event also helped to raise money for the CVMA’s Good Neighbor Fund. The Good Neighbor Fund makes one-time grants to residents in need of emergency funding to cover an unexpected expense such as emergency housing, medical bills, utility bills, or working with landlords to avoid evictions. The fund is partially funded by a grant from United Way of Kent County.
Sponsors of the Community Sing-Along were the Chestertown Spy, the Peoples Bank, the Kent County Arts Council, Tidewater Trader, Kent County News, WCTR Radio, Kent Printing, the Town of Chestertown and JBK Hardware.
The Good Neighbor Fund is also a community partner of the Samaritan Group, which operates a winter homeless shelter, open January to March in three local churches. The shelter opened Jan. 2 at the Church of the Nazarene in Kingstown, with 15 beds available. It will move to First United Methodist Church at the beginning of February, and on to the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown for March. The shelter is open every day from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., at which time guests must vacate the shelter unless the weather makes that inadvisable. James Diggs, the pastor of the Nazarene Church, is the shelter coordinator.
Shelter guests are referred by local churches, the Salvation Army, the Good Neighbor Fund, or the Kent County Department of Social Services, which screens all the guests. Guests must remain alcohol- and drug-free during their stay. Community volunteers remain at the shelter overnight to make sure everyone’s needs are met. They also prepare meals – a hot dinner, a breakfast, and a bag lunch – for guests. The Samaritan Group also tries to help guests who need to attend school or get to work while staying at the shelter. This year, the shelter has all new cots, mattresses, pillowcases and sheets, thanks to generous support from donors. Donations are still needed to get through the winter season.
During the remainder of the year, the Samaritan Group finds accommodations in local motels for those in need of emergency shelter. For information on the shelter, or to volunteer or donate, call 443-480-3564 or email email@example.com. Checks may be sent to Samaritan Group or Good Neighbor fund care of Chester Valley Ministers ‘Assocaiton at PO Box 227, Chestertown, MD 21620. More information and the volunteer form can be found at the Samaritan’s website.