A local project that feeds thousands of people on Thanksgiving Day continued its tradition this year despite challenges from the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Giving Thanks, which launched in Mercer County, Ohio, in 1999, took place again this year at locations in Celina, Coldwater and St. Marys, Ohio. Nearly 3,000 turkey dinners were distributed to area residents seeking a warm dinner. Last year, organizers served 2,000 meals at the three locations.
This year the volunteers took extra precautions to protect their health and those seeking a home-cooked meal. Totally Promotional donated 200 face masks to help keep everyone safe.
Project organizer Bruce Swonger said dine-in was not an option this year; meals were available via curbside pickup or delivered to homebound residents.
The Thanksgiving meal consisted of the traditional favorites. Volunteers baked 98 turkey rolls and prepared mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy, noodles, cranberries, vegetables and home-baked pies.
Swonger said they had no idea how many people would show up in lieu of the pandemic and an increase locally in COVID-19 cases.
“We didn’t know if we’d serve 100 people or 2,000,” he said.
They were pleased to learn they hit a new record: 2,900 meals! Coldwater served 600; St. Marys, 1,100; and Celina, 1,200. A few leftovers were given to an area food pantry.
Swonger said carryout meals this year were limited to eight per carload in hopes of having food for everyone who arrived. He explained that every year they’ve seen an increase in carryout meals and a drop in dine-in numbers. He assumed this year would be no different, especially due to the pandemic.
Phil and Lyn Cozadd founded the Giving Thanks program 21 years ago. A total of 282 meals were served that first year.
Volunteers continue to be the key to the event’s success, Swonger explained.
“We typically have 150 to 200 volunteers each year,” he said.
Organizers nearly cancelled the event in 2007 after fearing a shortage of volunteers. A story about the dilemma appeared in the local newspaper.
“Two days after that story was published we had 300 calls from volunteers,” he said. “Without the help of people in the community, we’d never be able to do this.”