Although the annual Greater Lancaster Holiday Gift Baskets and Food Drive is cancelled this year, yet another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College Church of Seventh-Day Adventists organizers decided to make two donations totaling $6,000 to WHEAT Community Connections in Clinton to help meet the needs of community members this year and during the holiday season.
“They’re extra special,” said Jodi Breidel, the director of WHEAT and North County Regional Director of the United Way. “They also sponsor a meal every month for guests of our Café so their dedication to our community and people in need runs wide and deep.”
Greater Lancaster Holiday Gift Baskets and Food Drive assistant coordinator and Berlin resident Marge Howes works with an army of volunteers to facilitate the event each year. The large scale effort headquartered at the College Church in Lancaster typically distributes hundreds of boxes filled with donated and purchased fresh produce and non-perishables and other food items to nearly 1,000 people in need in the region on the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Organizers donated $2,000 to WHEAT earlier this year to support the increased number of meals WHEAT has been providing since the pandemic shut down in mid-March.
“From March to October we’ve provided 44,408 meals to people, which is over four times more than the total number of meals we provided in all of 2019,” Breidel said.
More recently, the College Church donated another $4,000 to assist with WHEAT’s Thanksgiving program.
“They have always assisted WHEAT by sponsoring the fixings for 150 to 175 families during Thanksgiving with WHEAT providing the turkey, but this year they weren’t able to do their annual appeal and collection because of COVID-19 so that reached out to us with a cash donation,” Breidel said.
The Greater Lancaster Holiday Gift Baskets and Food Drive came to fruition many years ago as a way to help those in the community in need.
“The inspiration was a recognized need in the community,” said Howes, who along with her husband Frank has been a College Church member for 40 years. “It has been going strong since.”
Howes said they are happy to join forces with and support WHEAT to help area families in need.
“It seemed the only responsible thing to do was to find another way to respond to the obvious need,” she said of the donations. “It is a lot less work for us but Jodi [at WHEAT] has a large responsibility.”
WHEAT will be providing Thanksgiving meals that include turkey, potatoes, fresh vegetables and dessert to people and families who signed up for the Nov. 23 drive-through pick up; registration is closed.
In addition to the monetary donations, Howes said they took on the responsibility of supplying WHEAT with an abundance of butternut squash to be distributed for Thanksgiving. College Church members Barbara and Tom King and Ray Sauls donated butternut squash they grew themselves and Dave Rota from Rota Springs Farm and Clearview Farm, both in Sterling, donated hundreds of pounds of farm fresh butternut squash.
“With the support provided by our caring and generous community, WHEAT Community Connections will continue to meet the daily demand and ensure our clients are able to make cherished holiday memories with their families at home,” Breidel said.
Howes said that while she and the other volunteers are not necessarily missing the amount of hard work it takes to put on the Greater Lancaster Holiday Gift Baskets and Food Drive each year, she will miss the face-to-face interactions and expressions of gratitude from the recipients.
“I am looking forward to some of the stories that we hear of people who are in dire straits and how much this means to them,” she said. “It is our responsibility as citizens of the community to help.”
For more information visit uwotc.org/wheat and follow WHEAT Community Connections and Greater Lancaster Holiday Gift Baskets and Food Drive on Facebook.