Sonta Sapp, who was employed all 27 years of her adult life, was laid off from work a few weeks before Thanksgiving. Without a steady paycheck, Sonta is encountering a host of financial problems. But there is one thing she does not have to worry about – how she is going to obtain a turkey and the full complement of traditional trimmings this Thanksgiving.
Thanks to attending the Community Action Council of Howard County’s (CAC) Turkey Distribution, Sonta and her two children will be able to feast on turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, and many other scrumptious items on Thanksgiving.
Sonta’s household is one of 1,000 low-income Howard County families who are receiving turkeys and holiday meal ingredients at CAC’s annual Turkey Distribution. Last year, CAC handed out 800 turkeys and meal fixings during this event.
“No family should go hungry. Thanksgiving is a celebration of family and community, and that is the focus of our Turkey Distribution,” commented CAC Director of Resource Development Jen Grieb. “We want to make sure that as many families as possible have access to a holiday meal.”
To accommodate more people, CAC held the Turkey Distribution at the Howard County Food Bank by appointment during several designated days and times in November. In previous years, all clients participating in the Turkey Distribution lined up to receive their turkeys and dinner fixings during a three-hour period the Tuesday before Thanksgiving at one large location off site from CAC’s facilities. The new method, which was not feasible before the Howard County Food Bank moved to a larger facility a year ago, greatly reduced wait time during the distribution process because CAC’s clients were not picking up their food at the same time. CAC decreased wait time this year while increasing the number of people receiving food by 20 percent.
Another advantage to this new system is that clients had multiple days to choose from when making appointments. This provided flexibility and convenience to clients who worked or had other time commitments making it difficult to attend on one specified day.
This year, after checking in at the Food Bank, clients picked up a dark blue cloth bag filled with boxed and canned items needed for traditional Thanksgiving meals, obtained a turkey, and shopped for other items they needed. CAC staff members and a multitude of volunteers were available to assist clients through the intake process as well as help them shop and check out. Behind-the-scenes, volunteers sorted and stacked food so the Howard County Food Bank was well stocked.
“Volunteers are integral to the Howard County Food Bank’s everyday operations, and Thanksgiving is no different. We have many hard-working, passionate volunteers who are making this year’s turkey event a reality. Quite a few of our volunteers have stepped up, taking extra shifts to ensure our clients have a wonderful experience,” said Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Schindehette.
Tracy Brown was extremely grateful for the food she picked up at the Turkey Distribution, and she praised the process. It was inviting, efficient, quick, and stress free, she said.
Mallelyn Bautista, who has a family of five that includes three children, said she was able to take home more food than she expected. “I thought I could just get turkey and pumpkin pie,” she noted. Mallelyn left with traditional Thanksgiving food as well as cake, bacon, apples, and breads.
CAC’s clients are eligible to shop at the food bank only once a month, and normally take home a three- to five-day supply of food. Attendance at the Turkey Distribution served as a family’s monthly allotment.
To identify food insecure households this Thanksgiving CAC posted information at the Howard County Food Bank, sent letters to Head Start families, and texted messages to CAC’s regular clients.
“Unlike sending a direct invite to the most vulnerable clients as we have had to do in the past due to space, we are very happy that this year any of our families facing food insecurity had the opportunity to participate,” stated CAC Vice President Anne Brinker.
CAC, which obtained funding to buy meals for 560 families, sought and obtained enormous support from the community in order to expand the number of families receiving food at this year’s Turkey Distribution. Volunteer Tom Coale, an attorney, led the expansion initiative that was conducted primarily through social media. The goal was to obtain $8,800 toward meals for 440 families so that 1,000 families could be served. By Nov. 9, that goal had been reached.
Among those who supported the Thanksgiving Distribution were Wegmans through its “Check Out Hunger” campaign where shoppers had the opportunity to donate as they checked out at the store and Black Flag Brewing Company, which contributed part of its proceeds on Nov. 16.
“The Turkey Distribution is an incredible collaborative effort not only within CAC, but with partners and individuals outside the organization who want to make a difference,” said Jen Grieb.
It’s a heartwarming difference. When asked what she would have done if she were not able to get holiday food from the Turkey Distribution, Sonta Sapp said she would probably have served grilled cheese sandwiches on Thanksgiving.