Volunteers Steve Homer and Mysti Birks pack Thanksgiving boxes for the Salvation Army Church. Photo/Angela Denning

Volunteers Steve Homer and Mysti Birks pack Thanksgiving boxes for the Salvation Army Church. Photo/Angela Denning

Volunteers in Petersburg have been working to put together dozens of boxes of Thanksgiving food to give away to needy families in town. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:
In the back room of the Salvation Army Church, long tables are set up around the perimeter. Canned food is stacked on top as well as cardboard boxes filled with bags of ingredients; ingredients specific for a Thanksgiving meal.

Mysti Birks, a church leader, runs me through the supplies.

“So we have canned fruit, chicken broth, sweet potatoes, corn, olives, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes and onions, and rolls, and then in the back in the freezer still are frozen pumpkin pies,” she says.

There is also butter and turkeys being kept cold. All of these items will end up in boxes carefully packaged according to the size of the family receiving them.

Stacks of canned food are organized and ready to be packed into Thanksgiving boxes at the Salvation Army Church, Nov. 21. Photo/Angela Denning

Stacks of canned food are organized and ready to be packed into Thanksgiving boxes at the Salvation Army Church, Nov. 21. Photo/Angela Denning

“It’s a full box with everything they’re going to need to make a Thanksgiving meal for their families,” Birks said.

The Thanksgiving boxes are needs based. There’s an application process for recipients to fill out but Birks says it goes pretty fast.

“It’s not like this super strenuous situation. It’s not like you have to provide all kinds of information and tell me your life story,” she says. ” But we do need something to document why we’re using these funds to provide a box for you. And we want to do it. I mean Thanksgiving is an important time of year, it’s a time where families get together and a meal is always a great place to have a conversation. And so we want families to take that time, we want families to be able to spend Thanksgiving together and having a warm meal. And if somebody needs a meal we’re going to do everything we can to provide it to them.”

When the packing finally begins it goes full throttle. Empty cardboard boxes are quickly slid along the edge of the tables while volunteers pull cans from stacks and place them into the boxes.

There will be 88 boxes in all. That’s 16 more boxes than last year and 20 more than the year before that but Birks says it’s not surprising.

“We expected it to increase, especially this year just because of the two years of poor fishing season we know that families are hurting more,” she says.

There will likely be more boxes needed. Birks says new people always come in the day of the distribution.

Preschoolers with Good Beginnings bring donated food to the Salvation Army Church, Nov. 21. The church is run by John and Mysti Birks. Photo/Angela Denning

Preschoolers with Good Beginnings bring donated food to the Salvation Army Church, Nov. 21. The church is run by John and Mysti Birks. Photo/Angela Denning

“Thankfully, with the generosity of the community and the additional boxes that are donated that are full of stuff for other families we do end up with extra so we have never had to tell someone on the waiting list that we can’t give them something,” she says.

The packing gets interrupted when some young visitors come to the door. About a dozen kids from the local preschool, Good Beginnings, shuffle into the room carrying cans of food to donate.

The food distribution is coordinated by the Salvation Army Church but the donations are a community effort.

“Donations by local people or other local churches have donated or other entities have donated but also from our funds that are designated for Christmas and Thanksgiving food boxes, that’s where the money comes from,” Birks says.

Boxes of Thanksgiving food are organized in the Salvation Army Church before being distributed to needy families. Photo/Angela Denning

Boxes of Thanksgiving food are organized in the Salvation Army Church before being distributed to needy families. Photo/Angela Denning

Soon, the packing process continues.

The filled boxes are placed in an adjoining room on the floor, the small ones and large ones kept separately. Families will come to pick them up and, as Birks and others hope, will be able to enjoy a holiday feast at home.

The Salvation Army Church also runs a food pantry where families can come once a month to pick up free food as well.