Facing television lights, smiling politicians and Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee, Julie Velez spent her lunch break waiting in line Tuesday for a frozen turkey and a bag of groceries to use for Thanksgiving dinner for herself and her three children.

"It really helps. I'm grateful," the 35 year-old single mother and Harper's Choice resident said. "I'm always robbing Peter to pay Paul." Despite her job translating for Spanish-speaking patients in a doctor's office, she's had to visit the Howard County Community Action Council food bank several times this year.

Another mother in line, Rebecca Jennings, 37, said her husband works installing office furniture and she takes care of their five children, ages 2 to 13. She brought her youngest, Maxx, with her. The family lives with relatives in Columbia, she said, and they too needed help setting the Thanksgiving table.

"I think it's great," she said about the invitation she and 499 other Howard County families received to come collect canned vegetables, potatoes, corn, yams, cake mix and icing, rolls or muffins, cranberry sauce, stuffing, a pie and the turkey. Single-use foil baking pans were also provided.

Bita Dayhoff, president of the CAC, said only families who had visited the food bank five times already this year were invited to the Owen Brown Interfaith Center to pick up Thanksgiving groceries. Each bag cost $40 to prepare for a total tab of $20,000. Volunteers from Atholton High School, Dunloggin Middle and churches, as well as McGahee, County Executive Ken Ulman, several state legislators and the entire County Council showed up to help. Natalie Janiszewski, chair of the CAC board, said this is the second year that McGahee's foundation has helped at Thanksgiving.

Dayhoff said the CAC bought the turkeys from the Maryland Food Bank and McGahee's personal foundation and St. John Baptist Church also pitched in to provide the holiday bounty.

The football star said he lives in Howard, and that prompted him to become involved.

"You start out giving in the place you're in," he said.

Dayhoff said the invitations went to families CAC thought were in the most need, including those with children in Head Start.

"Our selection process reaches out to families who most come to our food bank," she said. Families seeking food are screened for income eligibility, she said, and they can come no more than once per month.

"People don't believe there are needy families in Columbia, but there are plenty," said the Rev. Rick Bowers, a CAC board member. "They are increasing in number," he said.

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