NEW BEDFORD — The United Way’s Hunger Heroes Project went off without a hitch Saturday at the Dennison Memorial Community Center as a crowd of volunteers packed Thanksgiving dinners for 1,000 families.
Michelle Hantman, CEO and President of the United Way of Greater New Bedford, said that the event was in its third annual run, and although it was held on National Family Volunteer day, the food drive was locally designed.
It went so well that the number of dinners doubled over last year’s event.
Volunteers wearing bright blue “Live United” T-shirts, including Mayor Jon Mitchell, proved the old adage, “Many hands make light work.”
Mitchell said “this has become an annual event for me. It’s a lot of fun on the cusp of Thanksgiving.”
A month ago the United Way posted an invitation on its web site for people to register, and the event was “fully booked in two days,” said Communications and Marketing Director Victoria Grasela.
The volunteers were assigned to one of two waves, each of which had the task of assembling 500 dinners for distribution by the Hunger Commission to local food pantries who track people’s needs and coordinate with one another to prevent double-dipping.
Long tables were set up in a square pattern in the Dennison gymnasium, and were covered with non-perishable goods that had been sorted Saturday morning by volunteers. Leading the way in donations was the Acushnet Co., which donated 12,500 items. Ocean Spray donated “a boatload” of cranberry sauce, said Hantman.
That augmented the donated food items from between 25 and 30 local food pantries, Hantman said. She said that frozen turkeys, 800 of them, will be distributed, paid for by the United Way through a Community Development block grant. The 200-turkey gap will be made up by the food pantries, which are storing the birds at the moment.
Volunteers were given one of 1,000 aluminum roasting pans, and set off down the line of tables — gravy, vegetables, bread mix, dessert, fruit and breakfast. Other volunteers worked steadily to restock the tables. The roasting pans and their contents were placed in plastic bags and then into cardboard fruit shipping boxes.
This was all done by people of all ages, with many families bringing their children to lend a hand, which the United Way hoped they would do.
Mark and Melanie Abdelnour were there with their 6-year-old son Myles, with Melanie having gotten out of the hospital just the day before, as she suffers with cystic fibrosis.
Deputy Schools Superintendent Jason DeFalco was there with his two boys, Matthew, 8 and Jae, 11, so they could see everybody pitching in to help people less fortunate.
Retired dentist Mike Gouveia, a repeat volunteer, called the event “a worthy endeavor.”
“There are a lot of people served.” he said.
The children weren’t just watching; they were helping fill the roasting pans with groceries. Many of them were coloring the greeting cards that accompanied each basket of food.
Food that is not associated with Thanksgiving was separated out and sent to the food pantries separately, said Hantman.
The event was sponsored by almost 30 local businesses, clubs and civic associations.
Among the larger donors were Orsted wind energy, which has just opened an office downtown, the Bristol County Savings Bank, Disney, and GenerationOn, a “Points of Light,” organization that encourages young people in service and volunteering, St. Anne’s Credit Union, and Big Value Outlet, which donated the aluminum roasting pans.
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