In the Gospel of Matthew 25:40, Jesus tells us: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Jesus is explaining to the righteous of his day that to inherit the Kingdom of God, they first have to display their faith on earth by feeding the hungry, giving something to drink to the thirsty, befriending the stranger, clothing the naked, healing the sick and visiting those in prison.

And if you care for those on the margins, Jesus says, that is how you glorify God. Nearly every religion worldwide directs its faithful to a similar commandment.

Thanksgiving is this week; millions will enjoy a veritable feast in a warm house, surrounded by loved ones. But talk to the homeless shelters and food pantries in your community, and you’ll be shocked by the record need this holiday.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 580,466 people experienced homelessness on a single night in 2020, an increase of 12,751 people over 2019. And Feeding America says 42 million people, including 13 million children, will be hungry this year. In the richest country in the world, those numbers are staggering.

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And the reality is that it’s in our own backyard.

“We’re going to have to scramble to put together the same quality of meal as last year,” said Sue Shirek, executive director of Northland Rescue Mission in Grand Forks, North Dakota, which will serve 800 pick up/delivery Thanksgiving meals this year, “and it will come at a higher cost.”

But the need is just as large at any shelter or food shelf you call these days.

Hannah Young, the volunteer and donations coordinator at Churches United in Moorhead, Minnesota, said her shelter has operated on emergency overflow since October 2019. “We have to be here for so many people.”

With just a few phone calls one morning this week, here is a smattering of ways I found that you can help:

  • In the Fargo-Moorhead metro, Young said most importantly right now are monetary donations, which Churches United can stretch farther than the average consumer. In fact, for every $1 donated, they can buy five meals. Also immediately needed: blankets, all winter wear, bath towels and toiletries. They could also use some human power. Call 281-656-7495 or email info@churches-united.org.
  • In Grand Forks, Shirek said they immediately need donated frozen turkeys for next week’s meal. Also needed: delivery drivers and food prep workers, along with monetary donations. Call 701-772-6600 or email sue@jointhemission.org.
  • In Alexandria, Minnesota, Outreach Food Shelf Executive Direct Bernice Wimmer said food and monetary donations are always welcome. But also needed: more awareness, and more willingness to step in to support those in need. “If you see somebody in need, point them in the right direction.” Call 320-762-8411.

There were another half dozen shelters and food shelves at which I left messages. I didn’t hear back from them because presumably they were too busy serving those in need.

This week, before you sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with your loved ones, pick up the phone, tap out an email, find a service that needs your assistance. Jesus is calling you.

Devlyn Brooks, who works for Modulist, a Forum Communications Co.-owned company, is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Church of America. He serves as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minnesota. He can be reached at devlyn.brooks@forumcomm.com for comments and story ideas.