Get packing! Mountaire’s holiday tradition will feed thousands for Thanksgiving

 

SELBYVILLE – Next Thursday is Thanksgiving.

This Monday is a holiday tradition on Delmarva: Packing Day for Mountaire Farms’ Thanksgiving for Thousands.

It’s wall-to-wall people and bulk quantities of food during Thanksgiving for Thousands Packing Day at Mountaire Farms’ Selbyville warehouse.

People young, old and in between will gather at Mountaire’s Selbyville chilly warehouse to pack 8,500 family food boxes to provide a hearty holiday dinner for upward of 42,500 persons.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Roger Marino, Mountaire Farms’ corporate director of community relations. “It’s the kickoff for the holiday. That’s what we see every year. People get excited. They get into the spirit. We’ve got the music playing. People can come out and get soup and a sandwich for lunch; a little bit of breakfast food. There’s plenty of coffee. For those who have never been there before, it’s a revelation. They can’t fathom it.”

The Packing Day extravaganza runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.  the Selbyville warehouse, located at Hoosier Steeet and Railroad Avenue.

Mr. Marino has been involved in all 23 annual Thanksgiving for Thousands events, which began in partnership with the Dagsboro Church of God.

Over those 23 years, Thanksgiving for Thousands has distributed 147,300 boxes to families in need. That’s enough food to feed as estimated 662,850 people, said Mr. Marino.

This effort does happen overnight. Involvement extends into schools, churches, civic and veterans organizations, the business community and many others.

“We will have well over 200 people turning out. We have people from every walk of life coming out,” said Mr. Marino. “We have parents calling and saying, ‘Can I bring my 17-year-old boy with me? Or ‘I am taking my 16-year-old out of school.’ We’ve got some schools calling and telling us that they are giving an entire busload of kids the time off to come out – supervised of course.”

Schools have gotten into the joy of giving through in-school food donation drives.

With a donut in hand, members of the Sussex Tech football team gear up for the start at Packing Day 2016.

Lord Baltimore Elementary in Ocean View emerged the school winner with 57 boxes of food, followed by Southern Delaware School of the Arts in Selbyville with 42.

“These kids over at Lord Baltimore, they are incredible,” said Mr. Marino. “The whole school gets behind it. The principal had photographs of every item we were looking for all over the school, so there would be no mistake. They got 57 boxes; that’s amazing. The same thing with the School of the Arts. Last year they were the winner.”

Another Thanksgiving for Thousands staple is the Sussex Tech football team. About 50 players in number with coaches are expected to again bring youthful muscle to the enormous work bee event.

“The coach calls me in July. He says, ‘Rog, are we on again? I‘ve got my guys ready to roll.’ They are very enthusiastic,” said Mr. Marino. “All of the educators that come out are right on it.”

On the list of volunteers: American Legion Posts throughout Delmarva, The Bethany-Fenwick Chamber of Commerce, realtor companies staff and sales people, many non-profit groups, ministers, church members and staff, WMDT-TV on-air personalities and staff, WGMD radio staff, the BRIDGE radio staff, State Rep. Dave Wilson, Mountaire employees and suppliers, government employees, Sussex County Health and Social Services members, women’s clubs from Camden to Princess Anne, off-duty firemen, off-duty police and employees from the Georgia House Restaurant.

Mountaire Farms’ corporate director of community relations Roger Marino, left, speaks with Austin Govin, former American Legion Post 28 post commander, at last year’s Thanksgiving for Thousands Packing Day event.

“Six nurses from Milford Hospital will take our packing as their first shift and then return to the hospital,” said Mr. Marino.

Mountaire is providing plump roaster chickens and all the food fixings for a hot Thanksgiving meal.

Each family food box contains a plump Mountaire roaster chicken, two cans of green beans, two cans of corn, cranberry sauce, gravy, canned yams, a box of stuffing mix, a box of brownie mix and a plump roaster chicken – equal to the size of a small turkey.

“This is my 23rd year, and years ago we had a nutritionist here. We asked her, ‘Tell us, if somebody had nothing to eat for the holidays, what would be the basis of a good meal to cook.’ They are items she came up with.”

Mountaire warehouse staff will load pallets of food boxes in refrigeration trailers destined for the Dagsboro Church of God and other central distribution sites in Seaford and Milford.

From there, boxes will be funneled to those identified with true need the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

“Everything is identified. That is why do this in bulk. They have identified within their church or organization tthe people that need the help, rather than a scatter-shoot type of thing,” said Mr. Marino. “They know the needs in their organizations and churches. They know where the problems are.”

The need continues to grow. And Mountaire is looking to expand to meet that need.

“Actually, the need really does increase year every year,” said Mr. Marino. “Next year we expect to expand this even more. We are in the planning stages of how we are going to do that. The only thing that holds us back is we are confined in the warehouse right now in the packing and all. We’re planning on expanding to other areas next year.”

Hunger isn’t exclusive to Thanksgiving.

Efforts to provide food to those in need during Christmas and Easter stepped to the store forefront on Nov. 4. That day 147 volunteers were stationed in front of 17 supermarkets in the region to offer a shopping list for shoppers wishing to donate food items for those efforts.

“Food that we collected at the supermarkets, that will be used for Christmas and Easter. And we will probably have to supplement that, too. If we need more, we (Mountaire) will buy more,” said Mr. Marino. “The whole idea of this is there are three main holidays, in my opinion, and that’s what this is all about:  Thanksgiving for Thousands, Christmas and Easter. That trilogy, to me, is the most important holidays of the year.”

New volunteers for Packing Day are always welcome.

“The air is a little nippy, so dress warmly,” said Mr. Marino.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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