This week will mark the 20th time that Mountaire Farms will be feeding those who may otherwise be unable to share a Thanksgiving meal with their families and loved ones.
“We’ll be doing 10,000 boxes,” said Roger Marino, corporate community relations director for Mountaire. “When we started, we did 300 boxes in the community, and all were seemingly satisfied. Last year, we did 8,500 boxes.”
The community is again being invited to join the company in the effort and help pack a Thanksgiving meal at Mountaire’s Selbyville packing facility, on Monday, Nov. 24, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
“We’ll have probably upward of 200-some volunteers who will come out and help us pack,” he said. “It’s a festive time, regardless of what the weather is — people still really enjoy it. They come from everywhere, from all areas on the peninsula. It’s really an amazing time.”
This year, Marino said, police officers, church members, the entire Sussex Central High School football team and others will come together for the morning’s effort.
“It’s a family. I see it as a family… We had two 90-year-olds last year come out,” said Marino. “We’re all working for a common cause, a common goal.”
Marino said the boxes packed by volunteers will help feed more than 45,000 individuals this holiday season. They will each contain a Mountaire roaster chicken, cans of corn, green beans, yams, cranberry sauce and gravy, a box of stuffing mix and a box of brownie mix.
“It’s the basics for a meal. If they had nothing else, they can live on that meal,” said Marino of the Thanksgiving meal provided in each box.
Earlier in the month, members of American Legion Posts in Sussex and Kent counties, along with church and other community volunteers, were out in front of Delaware stores, such as Hocker’s Super Center and Giant, soliciting patrons to donate food for the effort.
Once that food was collected, it was sorted, and Mountaire purchased the remaining food items from a participating grocery store that offered the best price for the bulk purchase.
Mountaire works with area churches, shelters and social-service organizations to find families who may be in need during the holiday. Those organizations then distribute the boxes to those in need in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.
“This program has grown tremendously,” said Marino. “We’re already filled up with our requests… and I’m still getting phone calls.”
Marino said that, over his 20-year involvement with the outreach, he has seen the need in the community grow, not decrease, as many have said.
“That’s not true. We see evidence of it. We’re still not being able to satisfy the need out there. More people are hurting than ever before,” he said. “People who are hurting today — some of those persons had very, very professional jobs and have lost them from illnesses or other reasons.”
In case some of those people participate in the packing of the Thanksgiving boxes on Monday, Marino said, Mountaire human resources personnel will be on-site to help anyone in attendance fill out a job application for a job in the company. Additionally, each packed box will include a job application for anyone in need of a job.
“Over the years, we’ve gotten a number of employees that way. We have people who were once homeless who now have their college degrees,” he said.
“The problem that many of us see is people say they don’t want to work in a chicken plant. You know, we all have to start somewhere. I have seen people who applied themselves — started second shift, no car, no home — move up to management.
“I tell you, I cry easily. It brings a tear to my eye. I’ll see them there, the people we’ve helped. They’ll come to me. They’ll hug me. They keep in touch.”
Mountaire holds similar drives during the Christmas and Easter seasons. For its Thanksgiving for Thousands and Christmas Feed-A-Family campaign, the company partners with the Delaware Community Foundation, and every $10 donated to the drive will help feed another family in need this holiday season.
Marino said that, although Mountaire has the funds to supply all the food and package the boxes themselves, they purposely ask for the community to get involved, to bring them into the giving spirit of the holiday.
“It’s everything a holiday season embraces. It’s more than just saying, ‘I gave some candy canes.’ People really get caught up on this. Year after year, people come,” he said. “Could we, Mountaire, go out and buy the food and just distribute it? Sure we could… [But] it wouldn’t get the community involved the way this does.
“That’s what we’re about,” he emphasized. “We do the right things in the places where we live, work, play and pray. I say that over and over again — ‘where we live, work, play and pray.’”
Marino said he loves seeing returning faces and new ones each year and is excited for Monday’s packing event.
“The idea is to get them involved — getting their hands on, freezing a little bit, and really feeling that you’ve contributed. That’s what it is about… To me, that’s the thrill of it all,” he said. “For anybody who is coming out, please introduce yourself to me. We’d love to meet you!”
Volunteer packers should report to the Mountaire Farms warehouse located at the corner of Hosier Street and Railroad Avenue in Selbyville on Monday at 8:30 a.m. To donate to the effort, contact Roger Marino at (302) 934-3123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.