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Emmarene Cook of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Mount Joy, handouts Thanksgiving meals to people via a drive-through line on Thursday, November 26, 2020.

In the basement of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manheim, masked and gloved volunteers stood at arm’s length, sliding plastic foam boxes from one end of a white folding table to another.

On a holiday typically defined by togetherness and gathering, workers this Thanksgiving did their best to stay separated, mindful of the growing coronavirus pandemic, while still working to deliver meals to Lancaster County families.

“There’s a tradition at this church of providing summer lunches and a Thanksgiving meal; it’s at least 25 years that we’ve been doing this,” said Pastor Kate Warn, fresh off a run to the store for more green beans and wearing a yellow shirt that read “God’s work, our hands.”

“This year in particular we wanted to respond to the pandemic by saying ‘There’s so many things we can’t do. What can we do?’ And we can continue to serve our community; we can continue to try to feed the hungry.”

Early Thursday morning, volunteers at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church assembled 150 boxed Thanksgiving meals complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, a dinner roll, apple sauce and a dessert. They were preparing themselves for when cars would line up in their parking lot to receive the meals, and hopefully, some sense of normality in an unusual holiday season.

The scene repeated itself at churches across Lancaster County.

In New Holland, Kathy Eby, a member of the congregation at St. Stephen Reformed Church, helped organize another food drive through in lieu of the normal sit-down meal. Eby said her husband is currently in the hospital with COVID-19.

“Initially, we thought, ‘We’re not going to be able to hold this,’ ” she said, which would be a first in 22 years. But with the help of Yoder’s Grocery Store and Arianna's Bakery, they were able to pull it together and serve 250 meals.

“The only sad part is, those that are alone … not being able to have them in; they really appreciated that community and being at a table with other people,” Eby said.

The loss of fellowship was a common refrain among church congregations adopting the drive-thru Thanksgiving model.

The Rev. Lawrence Sherdel, of St. Philip The Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Lancaster, said it has been difficult not seeing his parishioners as much.

“We’re still not visiting the sick in their homes. That hurts,” he said. “I just had one I was visiting every month for five years die, and I didn’t get to see her before she died.”

Sherdel's church put on possibly the largest drive-thru in the county, serving 750 meals to people who drove up to the backdoor of the church’s indoor basketball court. Thirty turkeys were needed, cooked with the help of the kitchen at Millersville University, volunteers from Knights of Columbus and volunteer and event organizer Charlie Sauder.

At St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Mount Joy, Janet Lehman, a volunteer with the food ministries, helped organize another one of the larger drive-thrus with nearly 500 pounds of turkey being used to make 650 meals. She said one of the biggest changes has been not being able to be together.

“That fellowship, it’s a big thing,” she said. “That’s really being missed.”

As the holiday drew closer, Lehman said, she and her husband resolved that if there was a way to still put on the meal, they would, but they knew it would have to be curbside only.

“It really worked out, and people are really appreciative,” Lehman said. “That’s why we do it.”

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