By Paige Lambert
Family and neighbors greeted each other as they walked through the Hays County Food Bank distribution line. Instead of heading home many stayed, awaiting a box of Thanksgiving goodness.
Turkeys Tackling Hunger, a program of the food bank, distributed over 3,100 holiday boxes to their clients in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday.
The boxes included a frozen ham, green beans, corn, yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and cans of pumpkin.
The program started nine years ago and gives boxes to 24 partner agencies, two school districts and six of its distribution locations. Individuals have to register in September in order to receive a box, Mallory Raschke, the food bank’s communication coordinator, said.
“We typically have the same clients and sometimes there are new people who have fallen on hard times,” Raschke said. “Since then we have grown considerably.”
In the past, boxes were initially filled by donations and constructed at the food bank’s warehouse. The high demand for boxes resulted in ordering food in bulk and organizing the boxes at H-E-B.
This year’s holiday box line wrapped around half of the building at the Martindale distribution location. Each person left with a big box of comfort food and a ham.
The hams, instead of turkeys, mark one of the many difficulties the food bank has experienced. As a result of the avian flu earlier this year, it would have cost the food bank an additional $20,000 to include a turkey, Raschke said.
“Everyone deserves to have a holiday meal,” she said. “This way we can provide more for those in need.”
But the food bank in 2015 received a welcome answer to many of the program’s growing pains. This year saw Buda based Night Hawk Frozen Foods construct the boxes.
Night Hawk not only helped them find better deals for the food, but also shut down its own operations for a day to pack and store all the boxes in its own warehouse, Raschke said. She added that Little Guys Movers also helped transport boxes around the county.
“We’ve always been able to find a way around it,” she said. “Because of all the community support we’ve been able to overcome so far.”
Syndey Groff, a food bank volunteer, passed boxes down the assembly line at the Martindale location to the next awaiting client. Each box she passed reminded her of her own family’s Thanksgiving and how important the meal was.
“I think of being a kid, and you hear about all your friends down the street having a Thanksgiving meal and they don’t have anything,” Groff said. “I think that is something that could have a real lasting effect as they grow up.”
Kirby Stewart, nutrition and food program manager, said their clients may not have a Thanksgiving meal without the holiday boxes. Most of their clients are at a low income level for long periods of time.
“They’ve come to look forward to that holiday meal box every year knowing that they will have a holiday meal,” Stewart said.
Turkeys Tackling Hunger reached 87 percent of their goal this year, raising $105,000, Raschke said. Donations were used to help buy food pallets and the ongoing operating expenses.
After a mere 15 minutes the seemingly long line for holiday boxes was no more and volunteers closed the doors of the once full food bank truck.
According to Raschke, not as many people registered for the boxes compared to last year, possibly because people lost their kitchens in the floods.
“Or they got out of their slump and don’t need us anymore,” she said. “We are going to keep doing what we have been and serve the community.”