Ken Santucci and Reiko Brown smiled and shared a laugh as they nearly bumped into each other in the kitchen. Both were in a hurry to start mixing bread stuffing that soon had to go into the oven. "This is fun," Brown cackled as she thrust her gloved hands into the mixture. "Reminds me of Thanksgiving at my mother's house. Everybody had a job to do." On Wednesday, the same was true at Joseph's House, where 30 or so volunteers converged at the Christian ministry's south Brooksville headquarters to cook a Thanksgiving meal, set up tables and chairs, and package take-home bags for up to 300 guests expected Wednesday evening. "It's our first sit-down dinner, and it's open to anyone who wants to come, so we're not sure what to expect," volunteer coordinator Jeff Hollis said Wednesday afternoon.
"I think we're ready. We have a lot of food. And a lot of love has gone into it."
For Hollis and the rest of the ministry's volunteers, the holiday meal offered something of a test run for what organizers hope will become a regular weekly offering to provide hot meals for those in the community who often go without.
"This is all about teamwork," said ministry president Jerry Hammett. "Everyone involved in doing this is doing so because they truly care about people and believe in doing the work that the Lord has guided them to do."
Hammett, 75, once ran his construction business on property where the ministry is located. The idea behind Joseph's House came to him about five years ago after a prayer session at his church, Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville.
"The Lord told me that a mission like this needed to be built in this community," Hammett said. "I didn't have a plan. I just put the word out. The rest just happened."
Three years ago, Hammett's friend and fellow church member Bob Francis introduced him to Tom Brady, a graduate of Central High School who became interested in homeless issues while studying for his degree in social work at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Together, the three men launched an outreach program that focused on creating a community pantry and delivering food, clothing and other essentials each week to Hernando County's homeless population.
Hammett admits that while many of the clients served by Joseph's House are homeless, the organization has been trying to steer more attention to helping anyone who may lack the ability or resources to cook for themselves.
"For a lot of people, having a hot meal is something of a luxury," Hammett said. "We think it shouldn't be that way."
All of which is why Joseph's House expanded its outreach efforts by building permanent kitchen facilities and a dining area. Starting next month, hot home-cooked meals will be served at the facility and also will be delivered to homeless encampments around Brooksville.
Gary Ballou, a recovering alcoholic who was homeless before he began volunteering at Joseph's House a year ago, believes the outreach ministry provides people like him much more than a meal. It provides hope.
"These are folks who really care about other people," said Ballou, 50, who recently celebrated his first year of sobriety. "When you're down and don't think anyone cares about you, it's important.
"It tells you you're not forgotten."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.