Filling 15,000 Holiday Food Boxes for Neighbors in Need
It was a tall order. Pack 15,000 holiday food boxes – 5,000 more than last year – in one week with about half the number of volunteers as usual due to COVID-19 safety guidelines. In short, do more with less.
For The Salvation Army’s Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) team and their dedicated volunteers, it was no problem.
“Our volunteers are integral to everything we do,” said Matt Coatar, the Volunteer Coordinator for The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division's Emergency Disaster Services. “They are dedicated to the mission and have come through for us, over and over, through all of our COVID-19-impacted operations.”
One hundred sixty of those volunteers descended on the EDS warehouse in small shifts last week. Each stood at a large assembly line to fill the boxes with items for a holiday meal: yams, green beans, corn, fruit cocktail, pasta, tomato sauce, mashed potatoes, stuffing mix, gravy, and a cake mix. The boxes then got distributed to the corps community centers throughout The Salvation Army’s Metropolitan Division, which will then give the boxes to families in need in their communities. Each food box recipient will also get a frozen turkey, chicken, or ham.
The number of boxes was increased this year due to the elevated needs throughout the region, where our corps community centers have seen a three- to five-fold increase in requests for help. “As we continue to serve the greater Chicago area, knowing the impact that the pandemic has had on everyone’s life, we view this year, this Christmas food box, to be even more important than ever before,” said Major David Dalberg, Divisional Disaster Services Director for The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division. “So we’ve moved from making 10,000 boxes to making 15,000 boxes available through local corps community centers.”
The volunteers who filled the boxes were especially valuable this year, when many are unable or are hesitant to volunteer due to COVID-19 concerns. Matt and his team at EDS were vigilant about following CDC guidelines. Each volunteer filled out a health screening upon arrival and were required to socially distance and wear gloves and a face mask.
“I wasn’t concerned at all,” said Susan, a volunteer who put cans of yams in each box during her shift. She has volunteered with EDS in the past and knows how careful they are. She did note that she was bummed the volunteers were more spread out this year. “The most fun is chatting and getting know the other volunteers while you work,” she said.
Sylvia, a volunteer who brought her husband and their teenaged son with her, said she also had “no reservations” about volunteering at the EDS warehouse. “I was very impressed with how organized they were and how well they followed COVID guidelines,” she said.
Though everyone kept their distance, Sylvia said her son Emanuel was so excited to be around others. “That’s the most I’ve been around other people in a long time,” he said. He told his mom he would definitely volunteer at the EDS warehouse again in the future – before he fell asleep in the car on the way home.
Filling all the boxes, Sylvia said she realized how fortunate she and her family are to have food, this year especially. “The way I see it, if I’m able to help, I should,” she said, adding that she hopes the recipients are “happy that God helped them in this way.”
Susan also found herself reflecting on the recipients. “I kept thinking about the people who will receive the food,” she said. “I hope they know there are people in the world who care. I hope they are blessed.”
In a year filled with so much difficulty, Matt hopes the food boxes are a bright spot for those who receive them. “I hope that they have a moment to share a meal and celebrate Christmas with less worry,” he said. “They are not forgotten. We all share the same table.”
See photos and videos of our food box packing
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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.