When Howard Payne University officials invite the public to its annual Community Thanksgiving feast, the emphasis is on the feast and the fellowship of friends, family and community.

But HPU officials can’t ignore the fact that it costs money to put on the feast of turkey, dressing and trimmings, which is offered on a donation-only basis from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thanksgiving Day at HPU's Mabee Center.

Friday afternoon, five members of North Lake Community Church and their pastor, Ron Keener, visited the office of Bill Fishback, associate vice president for business and human resources at HPU, and presented Fishback with a $2,500 check to help cover the cost of the meals.

The funds were from the church’s Helping Hands ministry, Keener said.

“We’ve watched the finances – especially the last two or three years,” Keener said. “The finances have begun to dwindle and wane from what they were early on, and our church has a heart for being helping hands for our Lord Jesus Christ.

“And we just felt like, OK, this is a community-wide event. People come in from all over the country, and they gather here with their families who live in this area, and that’s their meal that day.”

A visibly moved Fishback accepted the check and explained the significance of the donation, saying it will cover nearly half the cost of the meals. It is anticipated that $5,700 will be needed to cover the cost of the 2,000 meals that are expected to be served, Fishback said.

In previous years, Fishback said, the fund for the Thanksgiving feast would have a carryover from one year to the next. The carryover this year: $15.

“Several of you have been out here helping us serve,” Fishback told Keener and church members Wes Heckenlively, Leah and Gary Mercer and Linda and Russell Lemond.

"But you’ve gone beyond participating this year to sacrificing. It’s a great thing your church is doing. Blessings on your church, and thanks. This is huge.”

Fishback described the hugs and smiles that fill up the Mabee Center for the Thanksgiving Day feast.  An army of volunteers helps serve the meals and load up their vehicles to make deliveries to diners who have called to put in orders.

“It’s a great ministry of getting families together, but then there are a lot of families who need that meal,” Fishback said. “HPU is thrilled to host it. But it really is a community event.”

Keener said HPU “has represented Jesus Christ all these years. This meal is a reflection of that. It’s a big deal in our community.

“And our church says ‘Bill Fishback, don’t give up.' And I know those days with $15 in the bank have been a challenge. So with this $2,500, you go in, not having that pressure on you this year as the leader of this ministry.”

Thursday’s meal with the the 36th feast that HPU has hosted.

To help support the Thanksgiving Day feast:

• Make checks payable to Community Thanksgiving Feast and send them to Bill Fishback, Howard Payne University, 1000 Fisk St., Suite 210, Brownwood, Texas 76801

• Or bring donations to the Mabee Center on Thanksgiving Day