Thanksgiving for Thousands volunteers pack boxes for 8,500 families

Date Published: 
Nov. 24, 2017

Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Volunteers filled Mountaire Farm’s Selbyville warehouse on Monday, Nov. 20, to help with the annual Thanksgiving for Thousands effort. Coastal Point • Tyler Valliant: Volunteers filled Mountaire Farm’s Selbyville warehouse on Monday, Nov. 20, to help with the annual Thanksgiving for Thousands effort.

While temperatures on Monday may have been just above freezing, it didn’t stop hundreds of volunteers from packing into Mountaire Farms’ Selbyville warehouse to ensure 8,500 families have a real Thanksgiving meal.

“We’ve been doing this for 23 years — every year it gets larger and larger,” said Roger Marino, Mountaire’s corporate community relations director, of the Thanksgiving for Thousands effort. “More volunteers, more young people. So many young people come out here — some with their parents, some with their teachers, coaches. They want to be a part of this. They want to be a part of community service.”

The Thanksgiving for Thousands boxes packed by volunteers each contained a selection of 16-ounce canned goods, including corn and beans, as well as stuffing and pork-and-beans, which organizers of the effort requested be donated at various area grocery stores, including Hocker’s Super Center.

Each box also contains a Mountaire roaster chicken, donated by the company.

Once packed, the boxes are transported to three delivery sites, where they are then picked up by organizations that reach out to Mountaire earlier in the year, requesting a box for families in need.

“People talk, and the program gets larger and larger. It’s also how we find out who needs the help. It’s not just handing boxes out on the street. Every box here has an identification — a purpose and a place to go,” Marino said.

“The people who are nominating somebody, they know exactly the problem in that family. They know these people are really hurting, and they really deserve and need that box. Nothing is going to waste. That’s very important to me, and it’s satisfying to the people who are here working on this.”

The volunteers who come out year after year are what make the program, said Marino, calling attention to the staff of the Shorebirds baseball team, who have been volunteering for 14 years and the six nurses from Milford Hospital who changed shifts so they could help pack boxes.

“The great thing about Delmarva is the word ‘community’ means a lot. People move here from other areas and cannot get over the community efforts that go on here.”

The volunteers ranged in age range from school children to retirees, a showing that solidifies the idea that volunteering is something for people of all ages can enjoy.

Students pitch in

“My brother was in honor society before me, and I always remembered him getting volunteer hours and, at the time, I had no clue why. Last year, when I got inducted, we had to get volunteer hours,” said Colby Willey, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Selbyville Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society (NJHS).

Willey was one of 36 SMS NJHS students who volunteered to help pack boxes.

“At Thanksgiving, around the holidays, when people can’t get enough food, we’re going to help pack food for them so they can have a nice holiday,” he said. “I know all my hard work is going to someone in need. It’s mind-blowing that we’re getting all this food out.”

Willey said volunteering is something that is important to him and that he was was happy to see so many people volunteering at the event.

“For our first marking period, you had to get five hours, but I got 12 because I wanted to be kind and go around and help more people,” he said. “I think it’s kind that everybody has come together to help so many people who are in need.”

Michaela Lewis of Dagsboro, also 13, who was also there with the NJHS, said this is her first year getting into volunteering.

“My sister is a Girl Scout leader, so sometimes I help her with her troop,” she said. “I like how I feel during and after volunteering. When you’re doing it, you’re having fun and helping people. After, you feel good that you actually did something.”

Going to Thanksgiving for Thousands was a bit overwhelming, Lewis said, but she said she was having a fun time.

“Everything seems kind of hectic, but I feel good about what I’m doing.”

“It’s fun! This is my first time, I didn’t know what to do at first but we got into it and started helping,” added 13-year-old NJHS member Olivia Sananikone of Selbyville. “In this area, we have to take all the plastic off of the cans and move them forward to the line” to be put in the boxes.

Sananikone also volunteers at K.P. Karate in Selbyville and has previously volunteered at the fall festival at Phillip Showell Elementary.

“It feels good just knowing that you are helping other people,” she said.

Tracy Clark — an eighth-grade special-education teacher at SMS and NJHS advisor, along with Jennifer Jerns, an eighth-grade language-arts teacher — said this is the fifth year the NJHS students from SMS have been attending.

She added that, while students do have to volunteer five hours each marking period, the time spent packing Thanksgiving boxes won’t be included for those students.

“Today is just a free day for them. They come here and experience it, see what kind of good things there are,” she said, noting the 36 students all volunteered to attend the day’s packing event.

Indian River High School had 24 Future Farmers of America students volunteer on Monday for the first time, and Sussex Technical High School’s football team, which has made the volunteer day a tradition, pitched in as well.

“As a former high school teacher, I think it’s impressive to see the Sussex Tech football team here,” said Lauren Weaver, executive director of the Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce. “I think it would be awesome to get more schools involved, because I think it’s such a reality-check. It’s definitely a learning experience.”

Chamber, community groups help out

Weaver was joined at the at the packing event by the Chamber’s staff, for the first time.

“Mountaire is a Chamber member, and we reached out. This is always a hard week to get work done, but it’s a great week to give back to the community,” she said. “It’s really impressive. The people who are here are here to work hard and here for all the right reasons. We’ve had a lot of fun, a lot of singing and chatting on the line. We’re enjoying ourselves and getting to know some other people in the community.

“I think it’s a great team-building exercise and allows us to be a part of the community that gives so much to us and allows for us to be a partner.”

Weaver said that, while the Chamber is active over the holidays, serving as a drop-off site for food and winter jackets, this is the first time she’s seen the area’s need on such a large scale.

“I’ve never seen this quantity of food in my life,” she said. “We’ve worked in food kitchens before. This is just an awesome initiative where people can make their own Thanksgiving dinner with their own families.”

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #16 returned for its third year to help pack Thanksgiving meals, with eight members.

“It’s a good volunteer project for us to do. We do other volunteer projects, like with Special Olympics,” said FOP member Tom Maly, noting the group also just held a fundraiser for Lord Baltimore Elementary School at Cottage Café. “You feel good after doing this.”

Maly said attending the packing event really puts the need in perspective.

“I was not aware of the tremendous need in this area — not for 8,500 boxes.”

“We’re doing 8,500 boxes this year, and we could do more if we had the facility. Next year, we hope to have that and will do more,” added Marino, noting that the company plans to expand the warehouse in the coming year. “We’re going to expand this to the south, west and north. That’s news!”

Thanksgiving for Thousands is one of three packing events Mountaire holds each year, although the company regularly donates to area food kitchens and shelters. This year’s boxes will serve 49,000 people in all, said Marino.

In the next event, on Dec. 20, volunteers from the community will once again gather in the warehouse to pack Christmas dinners for families in need.

“We’ll do the same thing, only on a smaller scale. At that time, it’s for shelters, local food banks and local churches,” explained Marino. “And then we do it again at Easter. We do need help then, because it’s such a busy time that there aren’t as many people who have the time to come out and volunteer. Once they know about it, it’ll be a very good thing. We will need their help.”

Canned goods packed into those boxes box are collected from drives at area grocery stores — Giant stores in Rehoboth Beach, Long Neck and Millville; Safeway in Rehoboth Beach; Hocker’s Super Centers in Clarksville and Bethany Beach; Wal-Mart in Rehoboth Beach and Georgetown, and in Berlin, Md.; Redner’s in West and North Dover, Georgetown, Camden and Milford; and Save-A-Lot in Millsboro and Seaford.

The volunteers are what make the event and the outreach program a success, said Marino, noting they are just as much a part of it as Mountaire itself.

Those who wish to get involved in the packing should simply contact Marino, and then dress warmly, and prepare to be filled with love and hope at the event.

“I hear it every year: ‘I really feel like I did something.’ In life, when you start something, get involved in something, it becomes a part of you,” he said. “I’m so blessed to be a part of this organization, so blessed to be a part of this company, and so blessed to have my health to be able to enjoy all of this. I’ll do it as long as these feet will carry me.”

For those who may be on the fence about volunteering, Maly recommended they come out to try it just once — they won’t be sorry, he said.

“I’d recommend anybody step up to the plate and help do this. They could always use the help.”

Those interested in volunteering for future packing events may email Marino at rmarino@mountaire.com.