Hundreds of people came together earlier this week to ensure that thousands of others would experience the joys of the Thanksgiving Day holiday. Volunteers from across Delmarva’s churches, schools, American Legion posts and communities teamed up with Mountaire Farms for the 16th Annual Mountaire Farms Thanksgiving for Thousands, providing a holiday meal for more than 45,000 less-fortunate area residents. Nearly 6,600 meal boxes were packaged up this past Monday, Nov. 22, and shipped in time for the holiday.
“In the 16 years since I helped start this program,” said Roger Marino, corporate community relations director for Mountaire Farms of Delaware, “we saw our biggest, best and smoothest operation. It is absolutely unbelievable and heartwarming to see all the volunteers who donate their time to get this done.
“Originally,” Marino noted, “we started with a food drive and found that there was so much more we could do. This year, we had five different American Legion posts, the Dagsboro Church of God and HALO all providing volunteer work.”
More than 250 volunteers worked through the morning at Mountaire’s Selbyville warehouse to fill each box with two 16-ounce cans of corn, string beans and peas, one 16-ounce can of baked beans, one 16-ounce can of gravy, boxes of brownie mix, a bag of stuffing mix and a plump Mountaire roaster. Once prepared, these boxes were distributed through food pantries, governmental agencies, churches and shelters, and to shut-ins, through the coordination of Mountaire, the Dagsboro Church of God and HALO.
HALO, Hope and Life Outreach ministries in Salisbury, Md., was a first-time contributor to the annual event, but Marino said he hopes that their demographics and area base will help Mountaire’s efforts spread even farther in the future.
“Our intention is to expand this function as far as we can,” Marino said. “HALO’s operation is farther south and west of where we can typically reach, but we can extend to others and fill that need with HALO.”
With a fellowship of more than 500 members, a functioning food bank and soup kitchen, HALO is no stranger to helping those in need – and during the holidays is when many need it most.
“People ask us why we do this,” said Marino. “Well, years ago, we found that it was wonderful for people to come to a soup kitchen – a place for them to come together and get a good meal.
“We do this,” he explained, “so people can take a meal home with them, into their own environment. Back when we had a drive around the Thanksgiving holiday, we found that we were getting a big variety of donations, so we consulted with a nutritionist to figure out what we could start collecting to make a well-rounded Thanksgiving meal for five or six people. From there, the recipients could add what they wanted to, and if they were unable, the meal itself would still suffice.”
The process this year might have fallen short, even after volunteers asked shoppers at 14 area supermarkets to contribute donations, but efforts by Giant Foods in Long Neck and Mountaire Farms in Millsboro made for a record-breaking year.
“After the drives at the supermarkets,” said Marino, “Giant Foods and Mountaire stepped up to fill the remaining orders. They scrambled to get what we needed. The weather was great. God really cooperated with us, and the help came from all over. It’s heartwarming to see the number of people who continue to come out and assist us each year. There are people who have been doing this year after year, and we also had first-timers helping out who hadn’t even heard of the program.”
For Marino, providing the less fortunate with a meal on Thanksgiving goes far beyond the food itself.
“I feel that Thanksgiving Day is one of the truest American holidays,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for countries around the world to understand what our nation is all about, too. It’s a very patriotic time of year, and our country is bound by many different cultures coming together.
“In every box, Mountaire includes an entry-level job opportunity form,” Marino noted. “We invite recipients to come into our HR department and, if they qualify, we have an opportunity for them. Every year, it works. We’ve had a homeless mother come in and change her life around. We had another individual who came to us during a food drive, helped us pack up these meals, and she qualified for a job with us. She started on the night shift, and now she’s a supervisor. It just goes to show you that things really can turn around, and we’re happy to offer those opportunities.”
Mountaire holds similar drives throughout the year, around Christmas and Easter, as well, and Marino is hoping to continue the program’s expansion. A food drive with the Delmarva Shorebirds each year invites families out to the Shorebirds’ stadium, as members from dozens of area churches make an effort to provide them with meals.
“This is just the beginning of a huge program we want to start,” Marino said. “We’re waging a war on hunger, and every year, we’re looking for volunteers to join our army. It has grown tremendously over the years, and even though it’s difficult for us to expand as the need in the area does, we’re going to catch up with it.
“The camaraderie that this program exudes is amazing,” he added. “Just interacting with the people and organizations is something like no other. Partners are coming in from a lot of different areas. We want those bodies, minds and spirits to be a part of what we do.”
For more information about becoming a part of the team, contact Roger Marino, corporate community relations director, at Mountaire Farms at firstname.lastname@example.org.