While temperatures may have been low on Monday morning, hearts were warm as hundreds of community members gathered in tight-knit quarters with a collective goal — to give those in need a true Thanksgiving meal.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable how they pitch in,” said Roger Marino, director of community relations at Mountaire Farms. “It’s wonderful. It is something that touches my heart.”
Mountaire began its Thanksgiving for Thousands event 24 years ago, with the idea of providing Thanksgiving meals to those in the community who would not otherwise be able to have the holiday meal. Over that time, the packing event has grown, and now the business also provides meals at other holidays — Thanksgiving at Christmas and Thanksgiving at Easter. In the 24 years, the packing events have fed 1 million people on Delmarva.
Every Monday before Thanksgiving, Mountaire invites community members to its Selbyville warehouse to pack boxes of food to be distributed throughout the peninsula to families in need. Each box includes a Mountaire roaster, as well as corn, string beans, yams, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and a brownie mix for dessert.
This Monday, 8,500 boxes were packed.
“The need is so great. Our heart is in the community. It’s always been that way. We’re going to do what we can do to make things right for many people who don’t have,” said Marino. “We’re a Christian-owned company that believes in doing the right things in the places where we live, work, play and pray.”
The packing event brings out people from across Delmarva. And those who volunteer one year often keep returning.
“It’s a really good feeling when you’re finished, because you’re doing something for people who aren’t as fortunate as we are. At least they can have a good Thanksgiving,” said Tom Maly, treasurer of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 16 out of Bethany Beach.
Maly was joined by about 10 other lodge members, and noted that they volunteer to pack boxes at Christmas and Easter, too.
“Life has been good to us. Now is a time we can give back to other people,” he said, noting that the FOP also does other community projects and offers a scholarship to high school students. “It’s another public-service thing. You’re tired at the end of the day, but you really feel good.”
Maly encouraged those who don’t already volunteer to check out the packing events just once.
“If you have the time, volunteer. The people we’re preparing this food for are members of the community. We’re one large community. We’re just really helping our neighbors.”
Ray Myers, president of FOP Lodge 16, said many of the group’s members have dedicated their lives to service, so it only makes sense that they would continue to do so in retirement.
“It’s a worthwhile endeavor, and it’s an opportunity to give back to the community,” he said. “In law-enforcement, we’ve been doing that our entire lives. I was 27 years with the marshal’s service — we were always doing for other people.”
Packing is even a family-affair, as Myers’ wife has joined him at previous events.
While gawking at the sheer number of boxes, Myers noted it still doesn’t cover all those in need.
“It’s staggering to think that doesn’t feed them all, too. But you couldn’t do too much more than what Mountaire already does. Talk about giving back to the community — they really give back.”
He noted that, five years ago, his family was introduced at church to three people from the country of Moldova.
“They wound up staying at our house. We came down here and got them jobs working at Mountaire. The one guy, three years ago, he left, got tractor-trailer training, and is now driving. He bought a truck last year. He’s living the American dream. A lot of opportunities start here.”
At every packing event, Mountaire hands out employment applications to those interested. Marino said numerous employees have been hired because of that outreach.
Sussex Academy student Brady Cunnane, 12, was helping pack for the first time on Monday.
Cunnane said that, while it was his first time at Thanksgiving for Thousands, he had previously volunteered at his church to pack boxes of toys for kids at Christmas.
“It’s good,” he said of the event. “It makes me feel good because people who don’t really have the opportunity to eat all this stuff can get it.”
Lord Baltimore Lions Club member Paul Bolton, who is also a member of the American Legion and FOP Lodge 16, has been packing at the event for four years. He noted how excited he was to see so many students volunteering.
“It’s really a great experience. Seeing all these young people here — learning what it’s like to give community service, getting that happy feeling when they know they’re helping so many people, especially at this time of year — is a great thing.”
The number of volunteers, said Bolton, speaks volumes about the packing event.
“Once you do it, it’s hard not to, because you get such a good, happy feeling,” he said. “It’s a great time! There’s a lot of harmony and a little chaos in here. We’re here to help each other, especially at this time of year.”
For more information about Mountaire Farms’ Thanksgiving for Thousands or other packing events, contact Roger Marino at (302) 934-3123 or email RMarino@Mountaire.com.
By Maria Counts