Annual Mountaire Farms event packs community spirit to pack meals

Americian Legion Riders Squadron 28 members Ron Herman and Bill Staab man the packing line.

SELBYVILLE — Dozens of students had excused absence from school Monday.

Instead, they learned some of life’s lessons in a chilly warehouse in Selbyville – home of “Packing Day” for Mountaire Farms’ Thanksgiving for Thousands.

“Sometimes it’s more important to help others than yourself,” said Samantha Derickson, among the 36 eighth-grade members of Selbyville Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society that volunteered. “I think sometimes we take for granted what we have. So, giving back and helping people feels good.”

“I have learned that it is really important to help other people because some people are in need,” said classmate/SMS Honor Society member Lia Diakos. “I like how everyone has gathered here to help other people. It’s really nice that everyone here came. Thanks to everyone who did because they are doing good things.”

Packing Day coordinator Tyrone Bullock holds up a box that goes into the family food boxes.

Hundreds of people from all walks of life jammed the Selbyville warehouse facility Nov. 20 for the 23rd annual event annually held the Monday before Thanksgiving.

This year’s packing list: 8,500 family food boxes. That’s enough food to provide 49,000 people a hearty holiday meal, organizers say.

“This is our fifth year coming here and doing this,” said Tracy Clark, SMS Junior National Honor Society co-advisor. “We’ve also done it at Easter time. The students, they volunteer to do it. I think they like the fact that they get out of class, but we also talk to them about this is giving back to our community, which is something Honor Society is supposed to help do.”

“I learned that a whole community can come together to help people in need,” said SMS Junior Honor Society member Colby Willey.

Packing Day rookies included Indian River High School’s FFA. A total of 34 FFA students manned the packing lines via a pair of 17-student shifts – one morning, one early afternoon – in the six-plus-hour extravaganza.

Heads are bowed during the prayer prior to the start of packing.

“This is the first year we’ve been here with this group,” said IRHS FFA co-advisor Kevin Cordrey. “Our officers they did a pretty good job of putting together our program activities and this is one of the things that they wanted to do.”

Roger Marino, Mountaire’s corporate community relations director, continues to be amazed at the turnout, particularly the youth movement.

“When I was that age I wouldn’t even take the trash out. I’d find excuses not to take the trash out!” said Mr. Marino. “And now you see them here doing this. These kids are learning something. That’s really why their teachers are here and why the parents are here, the home schoolers are here because they want them to learn this and they want them to see this. You can see it on their faces. They are enjoying it. It’s not a day off from school; it’s a day of work in the community.”

Mr. Marino was instrumental in the start and growth of the holiday event from its beginning more than two decades ago. It all began with an awareness call of need from Dagsboro Church of God.

“I took it to the (Mountaire) president and I said, ‘They can’t accommodate the people in their church. So how about if I start boxing food?’” said Mr. Marino. “At that time, we were doing it with just the boxes we got from the grocery stores. We grew from there. Then the American Legion came on board with us. And then we got other organizations that came on board. It just grew and grew and grew from there.”

Sussex Tech JROTC member Jacob Hufford and volunteer Wayne Steerman stack completed food boxes.

From 300 boxes the first year it is now 8,500, having spread like an epidemic.

“A good epidemic,” said Mr. Marino.

Each family food box was packed with two cans of green beans, two cans of corn, cranberry sauce, gravy, canned yams, stuffing mix, brownie mix and of course a plump Mountaire roaster chicken. Information about employment opportunities with Mountaire was also included.

Pallets of food boxes were loaded in refrigerated trailers destined for the Dagsboro Church of God and other central distribution sites in Seaford and Milford. From there, boxes will be handed out to those in need as identified by participating organizations before Thanksgiving.

Mountaire provided all the food for this year’s Thanksgiving event.

Food collected by volunteers at 17 supermarkets on Nov. 4 will support Mountaire’s Thanksgiving for Christmas event.

Then in the spring, it’s Thanksgiving for Easter.

Over these 23 years, Thanksgiving for Thousands has distributed 147,300 boxes, enough food to feed and estimated 662,850 people.

Not all supporters are packers.

“I get the greatest thrill in the world. We have people come and hand me checks. They come out just because they want to donate,” said Mr. Marino. “The word ‘community’ in this area is so big. Most people don’t realize when they move here that this is Delmarva. It’s one big community, not just Sussex County. Delmarva is one big community.”

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