As area schools prepare to start again, educators are treated to free meal, prayers in Ooltewah

Ooltewah United Methodist Pastor Dwight Kilbourne leans to the pickup truck window to offer a for prayer with Ooltewah football coaches Thursday during the East Hamilton Ministerial Association's Drive-Through Prayer Lunch in the lot at the Samaritan Center on Lee Highway in Ooltewah. Chick-Fil-A owner Dawson Halliday stands and listens to the prayer. Providing food were local sponsors Salsarita's Fresh Mexican Grill, Pizza Hut and Chick-fil-A.

More than 320 teachers and school staff in the Ooltewah area were treated to a free lunch on Thursday as part of the annual Drive-Through Prayer Lunch at the Samaritan Center.

Vehicles formed two lines in the center's parking lot off Highway 64 to receive the brown-bag lunches - a choice among chicken sandwiches, burritos and pizza. Members of the East Hamilton Ministerial Association handed out the food and leaned into the vehicle windows to offer prayers for those who wanted them.

Kaela Miller, choir teacher at Hunter Middle School, said she was asking for general prayers for the upcoming school year. Thursday was the first day teachers were officially back in the classroom ahead of the first day of school with students on Aug. 7.

"It's just wonderful to not have to worry about food on the first day of school," Miller said. "And it's nice to have them pray for you."

photo Kaela Miller, choir teacher at Hunter Middle School, stops to comment about how members of the East Hamilton Ministerial Association offered a general prayer for the upcoming school year Thursday during the Drive-Through Prayer Lunch at the Samaritan Center in Ooltewah.

This was the third year the East Hamilton Ministerial Association hosted the event. Each year, more than 300 teachers participate, said Eddie Schwisow, Samaritan Center communications director. Tickets for the meals were given to educators at Ooltewah Elementary, Middle and High schools; Hunter Middle School; Wallace A Smith Elementary School; and Wolftever Creek Elementary School, Schwisow said.

Jon Teague, the association's president, said he has heard a variety of prayer requests over the years through the driver's-side windows of local teachers, from personal struggles the teachers face to concerns about students. Having faith leaders with the association from across denominations there to pray with the educators sends an important message, he said.

"The teachers play such an important role in the lives of communities, families and kids," Teague said. "We want them to know we are there for them."

David Fleming, who teaches JROTC at Ooltewah High School, said he has come to the event every year. He asked for prayers on helping students in places and at times when teachers cannot reach them.

"We see the students a couple hours a day," Fleming said. "I hope their home lives are good."

As she gathered meals for other teachers at Hunter Middle School, Terri Dupree said she was excited for the upcoming year and thankful for the free midday meal.

"I think it's an appreciation for what we do," Dupree said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Find him on Twitter at @News4Mass.