For the last 18 years Mountaire Farms, along with food pantries from across the Delmarva Peninsula, work to give hungry families their own Thanksgiving.
“Eighteen years ago we started working with the Dagsboro Church of God because they were going to discontinue feeding people. So we got involved with them and said, let’s figure something different out,” explained Roger Marino, Mountaire’s corporate community relations director.
Marino said that small partnership became Thanksgiving for Thousands. And as their mission grew, they enlisted the help of others to ensure that their meals were helping those they were feeding.
“We went to a nutritionist and asked her to put together what she thought would be a balanced box of food to feed a family of five and we added a roaster along with it,” he explained.
The boxes contain 16-ounce canned goods including corn, beans, and pork and beans, which they request are donated at various grocery stores, including Hocker’s Super Center.
“Along the way Mountaire partnered with the American Legion posts in the area,” said Marino. “We stationed people in front of different super markets and we work with them. People will come, we hand them slips of paper, they purchase what we ask them to purchase on those slips and they donate money. That helps us with our basic foods.”
Although many people do donate during those drives, the donations do not cover all the food needed for the boxes. Marino said a $10 donation can feed a family of five on Thanksgiving.
Last year, the program fed 50,000 people, this year Marino said they hope to feed 60,000.
“We’re pushing toward that goal,” he said, which is approximately 2,210 boxes and 8,000 roasters. “We work with the local food banks, soup kitchens, food kitchens and homeless shelters. They know and tell us how many boxes they need and we put that all together.”
How do the boxes get put together? People from across the peninsula volunteer a day’s worth of time to help pack the items.
“The Monday before Thanksgiving we will back those boxes. Hundreds of volunteers will come out from everywhere — from schools, churches, homeless shelters, from the community at large. They’ll come all the way from Pennsylvania, the eastern shore of Virginia, Maryland; it’s amazing where they’ll come from. Families will come out and work together and pack.”
This year, packing will be held on Nov. 19, beginning at 8:30 a.m. at the Mountaire warehouse in Selbyville. Those who wish to volunteer only need to show up that morning to lend a helping hand. Volunteers will be given a free breakfast and lunch as a thank you for their donated time.
“Last year 600 volunteers come out to help us pack. It’s a lot of fun. The Shorebirds come; it’s a lot of fun. Even local businesses will send people to help us pack.”
Once boxes have been assembled, Mountaire will distribute them to the participating food banks and shelters at the Dagsboro Church of God, the day before Thanksgiving. Not only will a family receive a free Thanksgiving meal, but inside each box, Mountaire includes employment information.
“In every single food box, we place the opportunity for people to come in and apply for a job,” said Marino. “Over the years a couple of hundred people have become employees that way. Some of them are still with us, some of them have gone on to other jobs. Some of them have gone on to further their education because we will pay for their education as long as they stay with us.”
Marino said that over the years he has unfortunately seen the need for the program grow.
“Things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse. There are more hungry and homeless veterans, male and female, on Delmarva than ever before, more homeless school children than ever before. There are more people out of work than ever before. There are more homeless seniors,” he said. “I know because I’ve seen the progression over the years. We started out hoping that we could feed 10,000. Now we find 60,000 and the number is still growing.”
As to why Mountaire feels so passionately about helping those in need during the holiday seasons, Marino said it is just part of the company’s philosophy.
“We do it because our edict is to do the right things in the places where we live, work, play and pray. That’s something that we live by. We are a Christian organization, owned by a man who believes in doing the right thing. It’s something that I believe in deeply,” said Marino, who added that Mountaire holds similar drives during Christmas and Easter time. “It’s a win-win-win for anybody that gets involved.”
For those who wish to volunteer, Mountaire Farms warehouse is located at the corner of Hosier Street and Railroad Avenue in Selbyville. If you wish to donate, visit The Delaware Community Foundation, at www.delcf.org.