Mountaire Farms will host the 24th Annual Thanksgiving for Thousands packing event on Monday, Nov. 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in their Selbyville warehouse — and, with the help of volunteers, will pack 8,500 food boxes that will be distributed throughout the peninsula.
The packing event started nearly three decades ago, when Roger Marino, director of community relations at Mountaire, heard that Dagsboro Church of God would no longer be offering a holiday meal.
“I discovered they were going to stop their Thanksgiving food program, which was a dinner… I said, ‘Let me see what we can do. It’d be a shame to lose that,’” he recalled. “I came back to the company and talked to our president, and he said, ‘Whatever you can do to help them, go ahead and do it.’”
In the beginning, Mountaire would collect monetary donations in grocery stores and then purchase food and put together boxes. A few years in, Marino asked a nutritionist working with the company, “What do you think we should supply a family of five that was not going to have a Thanksgiving meal?” From that, the contents of the Thanksgiving for Thousands box was born.
Each box includes a Mountaire roaster, as well as corn, string beans, yams, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and a brownie mix for dessert.
A total of 16 area grocery stores collected non-perishable food items with the help of 12 different volunteer groups, including local VFWs and American Legions, Lions Clubs, various church groups, who hand out lists of what is needed and collect donated items.
“This way, it’s prescribed, rather than just donations of a mismatch of things,” explained Marino.
This year, Marino has enlisted the help of high school students Will Kenny and Colby Johnson, who are serving as youth ambassadors for the drive.
“He came in this week with 141 boxes of food. This is a 15-year-old who has collected everywhere. He’s collected in banks, schools… and he’s collecting everything we’ve asked for,” Marino said of Johnson. “I want to create a team of ambassadors throughout the Delmarva community, where they can actually get out and really do things by collecting among their peers. I want to build that throughout the entire Delmarva community.”
Additional items have been collected from area schools, including more than 50 boxes each from Lord Baltimore Elementary School and the Southern Delaware School of the Arts.
“If I can do this and kept expanding it, we’ll be able to serve the whole community,” said Marino.
In years past, the items collected were used to pack the Thanksgiving boxes; however, Marino said that, this year, Mountaire paid for the non-perishables, and the donated items will be in the Christmas for Thousands boxes packed next month.
“In the 24 years, we have fed 1 million people on Delmarva, and we have supplied over 250,000 boxes of food,” he said. “Next year, we’ll be doing more, because we’re reorganizing our facilities.”
Once the boxes are packed, they will be taken to Crossroads Community Church, where they will be distributed to various organizations that will give them to those in need within their communities.
“We are winning the battle,” said Marino of serving those in need. “Unfortunately, the battle grounds get larger. That’s unfortunate. I’m not sure we’ll ever stop it, but we can help plug the gap.”
New this year, Mountaire is partnering with Calvary Wesleyan Church in Harrington, Del., to help feed those in need in that area.
“They found the need was great in Harrington and discovered 600 families that were really hurting in their community. They contacted me, and we came up with a plan. We’re supplying the roasters, and they’re supplying the staples.”
On Saturday, that church congregation, along with Mountaire employees, will be going door-to-door, praying with the people in the homes to which food is being delivered.
“It’s their heart and their membership that will be there in force. That’s a whole new approach to this.”
Marino said giving back to the community has always been the mission of Mountaire Farms.
“Our owner is a devout Christian, and he gives 24/7 throughout the year,” he said. “When I came up with the idea of doing this, it was easy for him and the entire company.
“We live on the creed and vision — to do the right thing in the place we live, work, play and pray. Therefore, it started small, and as it began to grow, everybody in the company got the vision and heart for it.
“We’re closing in on 8,000 people in this company,” he noted. “It’s amazing — when we started, we only had one small plant in Selbyville, and now all of our plants and the people in them are into what we do. They want to be involved. It’s the heart of the company. We’re in the heart of Delmarva, and we have a heart for giving.”
For those who have never participated in a packing event, Marino suggested dressing warmly and be prepared to stand on their feet.
“You’ll enjoy every minute of it. You won’t be cold… Your hands might get cold, but we have gloves for that,” he said with a laugh.
Those who pack the boxes come from all walks of life — veterans, clergy, high school students (including the entirety of Sussex Technical High School’s football team) and businesses.
“The excitement is being shoulder-to-shoulder with your neighbors, people you’ve never met before, people who are coming from all walks of life,” said Marino. “I have one dentist in Selbyville who’s closing his office, and bringing his wife and whole staff out to help pack. We have ‘wounded warriors’ who are coming out. It really gets people into the spirit of the season.”
Volunteers are always welcome. To learn more on how to be a part of the community event, contact Roger Marino at (302) 934-3123 or email RMarino@Mountaire.com.
By Maria Counts