Turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie: Thousands of needy get food for Thanksgiving

November 20, 2018

Though its supplies were dwindling, the Goodman Community Center’s gym was still packed Monday with hundreds of bags of groceries and piles of food waiting to be given away.

Included were turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and other staples of the traditional Thanksgiving meal — a meal that at least 20,000 more people in Dane County will now be able to enjoy this Thursday, along with the aroma and camaraderie that often come with it.

The shrinking supply of Thanksgiving foods that had weighed in at more than 150,000 pounds a few days earlier was part of the East Side Madison community center’s annual Thanksgiving holiday basket giveaway.

The giveaway, now in it’s 30th year of supplying the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal to some of the county’s neediest, officially ended Monday after providing enough food for 3,500 families over three days.

Jon Lica, the center’s corporate giving coordinator, said the Thanksgiving baskets give many in the area a chance to enjoy the day, when they otherwise might not have had “a dignified option to have a holiday meal.”

“There are families in our community that are truly struggling to get by. ... It’s not because they’re making bad decisions. It’s not because they’re not trying,” he said. “People deserve this.”

In the giveaway’s first year, a couple hundred families received food, Lica said. This year’s recipients include 10,000 children alone.

The community center bought most of the food, Lica said. Any remaining food or donated food that wasn’t on the shopping list for the baskets will be placed in the center’s food pantry.

Although the event ended Monday, some food should be left over for those who want it on Tuesday, he said.

Families and individuals wishing to receive a basket register ahead of time, Lica said. The center prioritizes children and families when choosing recipients.

Many of those who receive a basket live paycheck-to-paycheck or rely on local food pantries to eat, he said.

“Imagine if that’s your everyday,” Lica said. “How are you going to drop $100 on a Thanksgiving feast?”

Driven by volunteers

About 800 volunteers helped plan the event and distribute the baskets, Lica said. Numerous area businesses and organizations signed on as sponsors.

At the center on Monday afternoon, volunteers hustled to bring grocery bags full of food from the busy gymnasium to a staging area, while others directed a steady stream of vehicles to an area to collect their baskets. Others dropped off more turkey donations.

Among the volunteers was East Side resident Maggie Schley, the operation’s self-described “turkey slinger.”

An organic farmer, Schley took a day off work to help out. She said she’s been volunteering at the event for about five years.

While taking a break from making sure the staging area was stocked with turkeys, Schley said she enjoys helping out because she has come to know many of the volunteers — and recipients — and enjoys giving back.

“I really like hard work but most of all, I love the Goodman community,” she said. “These are all my people.”

Volunteer leader Michael Jacob, a 15-year veteran of the event, who volunteers with his wife and son, said it’s been rewarding to watch the giveaway grow to such a large, “well-oiled operation” that allows so many to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.

“In Madison, a lot of people live an awesome life ... and there’s a lot of needy people sitting around the corner,” he said. “To help make life one bit easier, that’s a big deal.”

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