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Howard County school group organizes handout of 215 Thanksgiving food baskets

Even though school buildings are closed and many Thanksgiving celebrations are canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, one PTA volunteering initiative in western Howard County is still pushing to help provide meals for families in need.

In the past two weeks, the Lisbon Elementary School PTA has assembled and handed out 215 Thanksgiving food baskets to families across the county.

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Cathy Datz, the president of Lisbon’s PTA, called the giveaway, in the middle of a pandemic, “immensely rewarding.”

“It’s one of those things where I feel so good about helping and organizing it,” Datz said. “Part of me looks forward to a day when we won’t have to do these anymore. Just knowing there was such a need this year was the reason we decided to do it.”

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The baskets included a turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, muffin mix, pancake mix, syrup, pumpkin or pecan pie, milk, eggs, butter and candy.

One hundred of them were given to the food pantry at Morgan Chapel United Methodist Church in Woodbine, while the other 115 were distributed to families through several different Howard County school communities, including Lisbon’s. The 100 baskets given to the food pantry were delivered on Nov. 14, while the baskets for individual families were distributed Monday.

“It is such a gratifying feeling that we can give to families that at this time, during COVID and the holiday season, we can gladly feed families for the weekend,” said Lisbon Elementary Principal Debra Anoff. “It is our honor to feed our friends and our families. This is so important that I don’t know how we can go another year without doing this.”

The holiday volunteering project by Lisbon’s PTA started in 2018, when it put together 100 boxes for the Morgan Chapel United Methodist Church food pantry. Last year, Datz said, an anonymous donor provided money for an additional 100 boxes to be donated to the food pantry.

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Principals from Atholton High, Phelps Luck Elementary, Thomas Viaduct Middle and Wilde Lake Middle identified families in need, picked up the boxes Monday morning at Lisbon and distributed them to families.

In total, about 40 families at Lisbon, 20 families at each Phelps Luck, Atholton and Thomas Viaduct and 10 at Wilde Lake received baskets. Some large families got two baskets.

“This is just an extension to ensuring that we make sure we take care of our own,” Anoff said. “For us, it’s so gratifying to be able to call those other schools and to see how we can help them.”

The coronavirus pandemic made parts of the volunteering process more challenging, Datz said, but the community chipped in to make all the baskets.

The first packaging day was Nov. 13, with Lisbon PTA families, students in Glenwood Middle School’s National Junior Honors Society and the local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops putting the materials together in different shifts at the Lisbon Volunteer Fire Department to limit the number of people inside at one time. Those baskets then went to the food pantry the next day.

“It started by just collecting food items and donating to the food pantry,” said Datz, who is in her first year as Lisbon PTA’s president and has a son at the elementary school. “But I wanted the kids to be more involved in it to see that there was a need and what was involved with it.”

Nonschool staff, however, were not allowed inside the building for the second packaging day, so Lisbon’s three custodians — Dorothy Smith, Maxine Brigandi and Hawa Kamara — put the 115 baskets together.

“My three custodians are the real heroes,” Anoff said. “They worked really hard to put together the 115 meals that would be given out this morning.”

Donations for the baskets came from Lisbon families, other western Howard County families, The Grill at Lisbon, two Girl Scout troops, the anonymous donor and two fundraiser nights at Tony Locos Bar & Restaurant in Woodbine.

Oftentimes, PTA events only help their own school or community, but Datz said it was important to go outside of western Howard County this year.

“We know that in western Howard County we have a lot of families that are able to give,” she said. “We have a partner school in Columbia with Phelps Luck. It kind of grew out of knowing that we could help Phelps Luck, but there are other Title I schools that need help. We wanted to spread what we have and give it to everybody.”

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