Family, friends and community leaders are celebrating the life of Rev. Roosevelt Sanders, who fed thousands and worked to improve life in his congregation’s Westside neighborhood.
Known for his humble personality and strong work ethic, the pastor of Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church died Sunday at Methodist Hospital following a battle with cancer. He was 63 years old.
Sanders successfully carried on the legacy of his father, Rev. Mozel Sanders, who launched what became the annual Mozel Sanders Thanksgiving Day Dinner. The initiative began in 1972 and has fed tens of thousands of people.
Today, the annual dinner is prepared by numerous volunteers working out of 37 churches and satellite locations. The number of families fed by the dinner has increased each Thanksgiving, and more than 40,000 people were fed last year.
Leaders across the state remembered Sanders this week as a man who gave his time selflessly to the community he loved.
“He will truly be missed,” said Tanya Bell, president and CEO of Indiana Black Expo. “His dedication to his father’s legacy of feeding thousands will never be forgotten. Rev. Sanders continued his tireless efforts to enhance and uplift our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”
After Mozel Sanders’ death in 1988, Roosevelt Sanders returned to Indianapolis from Chicago to lead Mount Vernon, which is located in the city’s Haughville area.
To continue the dinners, the younger Sanders established the Mozel Sanders Foundation Inc. (MSF), which organizes the dinners and raises funds to feed the homeless and needy.
Operating with the famous motto of “Don’t look down on a man unless you’re trying to pick him up,” Sanders guided the foundation through difficult financial times and expanded its work to include distributing thousands of pounds of groceries, personal hygiene and household cleaning products each month.
Sanders was also a founder of Westside Community Ministries, a service organization for Westisde residents. At the time of his death, Sanders was working to secure more resources for a drug treatment center, acquire a building for the MSF to provide for the needy on a daily basis, expand its scholarship program and begin mentoring and youth empowerment projects.
In a joint statement, members of the Baptist Ministers of Indianapolis praised Sanders as not just a great preacher, but someone who wanted to see his community reach its fullest potential.
“Pastor Sanders served this community with honor and integrity,” said Rev. Stephen J. Clay, president of the alliance and pastor of Messiah Missionary Baptist Church.
“Thousands have been blessed because of his work.”
Sanders “could have charted a path in life that was beneficial to just him and his family, but he answered the call of the Lord and his community to help meet the needs of people,” said Rev. Ronald Covington, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church, which is also located in the Haughville area. “The best thing we can do to honor him is to keep that legacy alive.”
Sanders is survived by his wife, Stephanie, recognized by many as a devoted partner in his ministry; and three sons, Allen Sanders, Roosevelt Sanders Jr. and Stephen Mozel Sanders.
The Sanders family has noted that the foundation’s work will continue, but it needs assistance from the community to make sure food continues to be available for those in need, especially in light of the recent economic downturn.
Contributions and volunteer support can be offered by calling the Mozel Sanders Foundation at (317) 636-7985, or by visiting www.mozelsanders.org.
At Recorder press time, funeral arrangements for Rev. Sanders are: Visitation Aug. 6, from noon to 8 p.m. at Mount Vernon Community Missionary Baptist Church, 709 N. Belmont Ave., and Aug. 7 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 1301 Goodlet Ave; a celebration of life service Aug. 7 at 10 a.m. at Friendship, and interment at Crown Hill Cemetery.