SIKESTON - What's from the heart, reaches the heart.
And Beverly Baker has touched many.
It was 13 years ago when the idea of reaching out to senior citizens during the holidays first came to Baker. She would serve a hot, Thanksgiving dinner to them at no charge.
Guests would have the choice of either eating together or having the meals delivered. Baker smiled as she thought about those first few years when she cooked the food in her modest kitchen. It's a far cry from what the project has become today.
This year's Thanksgiving Day dinner will be served from noon to 3 p.m. Guests have the choice of either eating at Mission Missouri, 218 Dixie, on Thursday or having their meals delivered. In an added attempt to make certain no one is left out, those who desire will be picked up and taken to Mission Missouri for the meal and then driven home.
Some might say that's a lot of trouble for a bunch of strangers. But to Baker, it's the way it should be. "It's the reason for the season, that's what Thanksgiving is about," she said. "Our Thanksgiving dinner is served in a home atmosphere, whether it is the ones coming to eat the meal with us or those who are getting it delivered. We've been around a long time and we look forward to it like a family. "
It's not a handout, she stressed, "To me it's an expression of love for our seniors. This is what the Thanksgiving season is about, love, sharing, caring and giving. It's a lot of love wrapped into one. Thanksgiving... the word tells it all."
Last year, those involved stopped counting the number of seniors who took part after reaching 398.
As in years past, Baker insists the dinner is actually for seniors and individuals who are mentally retarded-developmentally disabled, yet at the same time she said no one will be turned down.
"My love is the seniors," said Baker who worked in a nursing home for years. "It's because they paved the way for us, they've given so much. We're going through this right now with the terrorist attacks in New York and for us this is scary but some of the seniors have been through wars, famines and the Depression. They know how to survive. It makes me think about how good we've actually had it."
Believing in what she's doing, volunteers have come from every corner of the community to help in whatever way they can, whether it's cooking, donating food or gift certificates, serving the meals, delivering the food or helping in the many other areas they're needed.
But there's always a need for more assistance. Anyone interested in finding out what they can do this year is asked to call Baker at 472-4351 or Mission Missouri at 472-4141.
"I want to thank in advance anybody who feels the need to express their gift of love by helping with this meal," she said, her hand over her heart. "I feel support from the community and it makes me want to continue. People are supporting me and that makes me feel good. If something tells you to be a part, then don't miss your blessing because there's definitely a blessing in this. We need volunteers with the number growing, you never know how many we're going to end up with. So I encourage the community to continue to support this. I need their support, I can't do it by myself."
But monetary donations are not part of her plan. "When the Lord first spoke to me he told me not to take any money and I thought, wow, how are you going to feed somebody and not take any money? But I'm seeing in doing this the way the Lord told me to do it, how blessings can really come. This is showing how God can really work. Each time God blesses this Thanksgiving meal."
The staff of Mission Missouri also said they feel blessed in having the opportunity to help Baker in her mission to make the holiday brighter for those who might otherwise spend it alone. This will be the third year the organization has lent its hands, its hearts and its building.
"We're going to do the set up a little differently to get the meals delivered even quicker," noted Mission Missouri's Janie Pfefferkorn. "Something else we haven't done before is to actually have some manpower of people that would come in a day or so ahead to set up, get the Mission ready. We could use some volunteers for that. It's fun, the workers enjoy getting to visit with people they deliver to or who come to the Mission to eat.
"To those people who would like to come and eat with us, no matter who you are, it's just a sweet time of fellowship and a sweet time getting ready for the holidays, a feeling of community and everyone coming together. We would love to see more people from all parts of town come together and eat with us."
Those who would like to have Thanksgiving dinner are asked to call Baker or Mission Missouri. The information needed includes the number of meals to be delivered, dietary restrictions, address, phone number and whether the meal will be eaten at Mission Missouri, delivered to the home or specify that the individual(s) will need to be picked up and returned home.