Earlier this week, hundreds of people from all over the peninsula gathered at a warehouse in Selbyville to help give needy families a Thanksgiving dinner.
“This is wonderful,” said Roger Marino, corporate community relations director Mountaire Farms, which sponsors the event each year. “I would never believe we would have so many people here. We’ve got more people than we’ve ever had. Hundreds of volunteers coming out — it’s terrific, it’s wonderful, it’s a good thing.”
For the last 18 years, Marino has been organizing Thanksgiving for Thousands, an event created to help feed those in need during the holiday season. Hoping to feed 60,000 people this year, Mountaire reached out to the community to help donate items that could be packaged into boxes and distributed throughout the community. The boxes contain 16-ounce canned goods including corn, beans, and pork and beans — which they request be donated at various participating grocery stores — as well as a Mountaire roaster chicken.
“We’re going to serve more people than ever before, and we still have a lot of people that we can’t serve because we just don’t have enough,” said Marino. “We’ve got more people that we’re feeding this year than ever before. It started out with a couple of hundred, and now it’s gone up, and we could do more and want to do more.”
The event came about after it was announced that Dagsboro Church of God was going to discontinue serving Thanksgiving dinners to the needy. Mountaire stepped in to help.
“It’s been pretty amazing to realize that this started with one congregation here in Dagsboro that started making food on Thanksgiving Day, just to serve a few hundred people,” said Curtis Jones, a pastor at the church.
During the packing, volunteers were bundled up in warm clothes, listening to Christmas music and smiling while working their assembly-line job to help create dinner boxes.
“I first heard about it through Pastor Kim [Tephabock], the best pastor from the best church in the state of Delaware,” said Millsboro resident Linda Rott, who has been volunteering at the event for three years. “Fifteen years ago, I was on the receiving end. So when this opportunity came up, I decided I should give back. Now I’m a giver, not a receiver. I’ve come a long way — I feel like I’m paying a debt, cleaning the slate.”
Haley Niethammer, 13, took the day off from Georgetown Middle School to volunteer for an eighth year.
“I used to go to Lighthouse Christian School, and they had us help, and we’ve been coming ever since,” said Niethammer, who was volunteering with members of her family. “We do it to help all the people in need that need something for Thanksgiving. Just the feeling that you’ve done something good for other people…”
Frankford resident Hannah Remo, 20, took off work to volunteer at the event for the first time.
“I had heard about Thanksgiving for Thousands through a friend, and I was interested in helping out,” said Remo, who volunteered with her boyfriend. “It was intense at first because of the large amount of volunteers there, but after Garrett [Menoche] and I were told to jump into the line and make friends, we did just that. And, overall, the experience was great and pretty fulfilling.”
Remo, who has also volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, said that giving back is important during the holidays and that she hopes more people will join in next year.
“I’m always thankful to be able to sit around my table with my family for Thanksgiving, so it was important for me to volunteer and help out those who need it this holiday,” she said. “It was very rewarding, and all of the other volunteers were very welcoming and helpful. I encourage everyone to come out and pack some turkeys with us next year!”
Some traveled long distances to volunteer for their first Thanksgiving for Thousands.
“We wanted the opportunity to serve,” said 11-year-old Laurel resident Dallis Coleman, noting that she would recommend it to kids her age. “It’s pretty cool.”
“We’re very blessed and were looking for opportunities to serve,” added Carrie Coleman, Dallis’ mom.
American Legion Post 10 member and Newark resident Joseph D’Amico heard about the event through the Legion and knew he wanted to volunteer.
“I had done similar work in other areas, like Long Island. When I was doing it, it wasn’t as critical as it is nowadays with the job situation.”
Many Mountaire employees were also working the event, helping to move and wrap boxes to be trucked out for distribution.
“It’s fun for me, getting to see different people, seeing people helping each other.
It means a lot to work for somebody that gives back. It’s a good cause. I’d do it every day if I could,” said Jeremy Oliver, who has been working the event for each of the four years he’s been with Mountaire. “I do it every year.”
“These people who are out here today are doing it from the heart. They’re doing it because every year they want to get involved, be involved,” added Marino.
Boxes were later distributed at area churches and stores, so that organizations could get the food to those in need in time to make Thursday’s dinner.
“We’re living in a time when there are so many homeless, hurting, hungry people, especially on Delmarva. Who would ever believe that, on Delmarva, land of plenty, that we would have so many of those people,” said Marino, noting that the number of homeless children attending area schools is growing.
“Children who only get one meal a day — and that’s their school lunch. Who would’ve ever thought that, here on Delmarva, where so many people are living well?”
Marino said that Mountaire holds similar drives during the Christmas and Easter holidays. For their Christmas meals, canned goods will be collected at participating stores on Dec. 8. He added that he hopes more members of the community will realize the need and contribute in any way they can.
“We have homeless veterans, male and female; homeless and hurting seniors; seniors who can’t work; and seniors who can’t find work. We’ve got it all here on Delmarva. This is a microcosm of what’s going on throughout the United States today,” said Marino. “When people say things are getting better — they may be for some, but not for many. And we need to help them.”
To donate, contact Roger Marino at (302) 934-3123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks may be mailed to P.O. Box 1320, Millsboro, DE 19966.