The tables in the Portico at St. John’s Catholic Church were piled high with turkeys, potatoes, fresh fruit and other goods Friday morning — a bounty of food that will supply 84 families in need with a Thanksgiving meal through the United Way of Central Maryland’s Harvest of Plenty.
Edward Cialkowski was cheerful when he came in to pick up his meal, which he said he will contribute to the family dinner at his daughter’s house where about 30 people are gathering.
“This really helps with the family,” he said.
Susan Repko, director of marketing with UWCM, said the food is provided by McCormick & Co. and the Maryland Food Bank. Families could register to receive a meal through the 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline, a 24-7 helpline.
The organization also follows up with people after they get their meal, and Repko said she enjoys hearing family’s stories.
One that sticks in her mind is of a pregnant woman who picked up a meal for her family. She went into labor while preparing the meal and had to leave before it was finished. When she returned home with her new child, she was able to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers that her family had saved for her.
For those who could not provide their own transportation to pick up meals, social workers from the Carroll County Department of Social Services and volunteers delivered meals in the county.
Michelle Jacobs, a social worker, delivers some meals to her elderly clients, many of whom are on a fixed income and do not have family to share the meal with.
“That’s a big deal for them,” she said.
Ann Gilbert, of the DSS, has volunteered with the Carroll Harvest of Plenty for the past eight years. She said she is pleased by the collaboration of the organizations involved. To supplement the food offering this year, she reached out to Performance Food Group, which provided about 90 pounds of potatoes plus apples and oranges.
“I’m thankful that we can take very ordinary things and turn that into a blessing for [the recipients],” she said.
This is the program’s 25th year, and what began with around 600 meals has now grown to provide more than 4,000 meals throughout central Maryland, Repko said.
At the Westminster location, distribution originally took place out on the loading dock, but volunteers at the church invited them to use the facilities inside. This year, volunteers handed out boxes of canned goods and frozen birds to the sound of Christmas music. If a family was not able to pick up their meal, the church stored the turkey in its kitchen freezer.
Hank Wheeler, parish chaplain at St John’s, and his daughter Erica were on hand to help with the distribution.
After hearing about the distribution for years but being unable to help because of her work schedule, Erica Wheeler was pleased three years ago when she was first able to start volunteering at the annual event.
“I believe in giving back to my community because I know what it’s like to have nothing,” she said.
Hank Wheeler said their family had been homeless in the past and this event has a personal meaning for them.
Repko said some might think there is less of a need in Carroll than Baltimore City, for example, but the data the organization collects shows that 28 percent of the county’s residents are unable to afford the cost of living.
She said many of the people UWCM serves are working more than one job and making choices between health insurance and child care or other important services, and she hopes that Harvest of Plenty can provide them a holiday meal without worry.
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For more information about Harvest of Plenty and other UWCM programs visit, www.uwcm.org.