Weeklong Milford effort culminates Thursday in sharing meals

Volunteer Wanda Jackson, left, and her daughter, Jasmine Frison, season turkeys in preparation for the Milford Community Thanksgiving Outreach Program’s annual dinner service (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller).

MILFORD — A group of volunteers will be bringing Thanksgiving meals to those in need, as well as to volunteers and first responders around the Milford area Thursday.

But preparations for the big day began almost a full week earlier when family and friends of longtime Milford resident Gwendolyn Fountain gathered at the Carlisle Fire Co. on Friday.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Milford Community Thanksgiving Outreach Program’s annual dinner service.

“Our Thanksgiving outreach program started in November 1990,” Ms. Fountain said.

At the time, Ms. Fountain was working at First State Community Action, a nonprofit social services provider, and was first inspired to start handing out meals on Thanksgiving by a co-worker.

“Her name was Elizabeth Cornish,” Ms. Fountain said. “I watched her taking names and then delivering dinners on Thanksgiving Day, and that touched my heart, to do it right on the day of Thanksgiving when so many didn’t have a meal or maybe didn’t even have family.”

She said that for years the organization essentially functioned as a delivery service, bringing meals prepared by Seaford’s Church of God and Saints of Christ and shuttling them up to those in need in the Milford area.

“To see the smiles and the thank-yous touched all our hearts, my heart especially, to keep on going,” Ms. Fountain said. “It just grew. It got bigger and bigger.”

Initially, the Milford Community Thanksgiving Outreach Program was organized under the umbrella of Milford’s St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, to which the Fountain family has historic ties, but eventually became an independent organization.

Today, Ms. Fountain’s son, Brennan, who is the controller of Delaware’s state treasurer’s office, has taken the reins from his mother in many respects.

“We had slightly over 100 dinners in 1990,” he said. “Now, we’ve grown to over 600 hot meals to hand out in the community.”

By 2018, the organizers decided that demand around Milford was great enough to warrant cooking their own meals. They spent that Thanksgiving cooking at Grace United Methodist Church in Georgetown before moving over to the fire station in 2019.

Now that the group is cooking its own meals, Mr. Fountain said there is a lot of prep work involved.

“It requires a lot of planning meetings,” he said.

Mr. Fountain said members of the committee go out and purchase a lot of the food, but that businesses from the community also help. He said that this year, the organization has received donations from businesses like Burris Logistics, Capriotti’s and Delaware Heart Softball.

Although he said Ms. Fountain and others in the group have formed a list of everyone who is supposed to get a meal, Mr. Fountain said there will be a few extra plates set aside for unregistered walk-ups.

“There’s a few individuals that come here to the fire department to pick their meals up,” he said. “We’re going to have it set up similar to what the school district does in the grab-and-go format.”

But Mr. Fountain said most of the meals are hand-delivered.

“We have drivers that are delivering to the different hotels, a few residents in Milford and also the first responders and police department,” he said. “We cover Milford and the surrounding areas. We’re touching Lincoln, Magnolia, anyone that’s locally around Milford.”

Mr. Fountain said the group would be serving a traditional Thanksgiving spread.

“This year, we’re going to have turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce, rolls and a dessert,” he said. “This year, we added candied yams to the menu, but typically, the menu pretty much stays the same.”

Among the program’s volunteers were, front row, from left, Wanda Jackson, Toshi Reynolds, Pamela James, Gwendolyn Fountain, Brennan Fountain and Adrionna Fountain; and back row, from left, Jasmine Frison, Milford Vice Mayor Jason James, Donna Sharp and Vada Sample.

On Nov. 19, members of the group spent the day preparing turkeys.

Wanda Jackson, the lead chef at Lulu Ross Elementary School’s cafeteria, was in the kitchen working on turkeys with her daughter, Jasmine Frison, who works alongside her mom at Lulu Ross.

“I mixed poultry seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley, black pepper,” Ms. Jackson said. “I blended them all together and put them in a shaker.”

She was in the process of cooking 30 turkeys.

“We have three ovens and three roasters,” she said last week. “It’s going to take tonight until about 9 o’clock and then tomorrow. A couple more days. Probably Friday and Saturday.”

Ms. Jackson said she has been the Milford Community Thanksgiving Outreach Program cook for over 15 years. Her daughter is more of a newcomer.

“I’ve been a part of it for the last three years,” Ms. Frison said.

“Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays for sure,” she said. “Thanksgiving to me is just the memories and spending time with your family and realizing what you have and what you’re thankful for.”

Although Ms. Jackson said she’s not related to the Fountains by blood, she does consider them family.

“I help out whenever they’re here, and we spend a lot of time together,” she said.

Ms. Fountain said the sense of family and togetherness is what Thanksgiving is all about.

“I look at it as a time of appreciation and unity,” she said. “I love the feeling of coming together and having a family dinner.”