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God's Pantry's Sharing Thanksgiving takes more than turkey: Start with 400 volunteers

Baskets moved down the conveyor as more than 400 volunteers filled Thanksgiving baskets at God's Pantry on Saturday November 15, 2014 in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Mahan
Baskets moved down the conveyor as more than 400 volunteers filled Thanksgiving baskets at God's Pantry on Saturday November 15, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Mahan Herald-Leader

For most people, Thanksgiving dinner is work, requiring planning and diplomacy.

Questions like this can run through your mind: Fresh cranberry relish or canned sauce? Sweet potatoes or yams? Little marshmallows or big? Is this the year you throw tradition out the window and do stir-fry?

For the people at God's Pantry Food Bank, Central Kentucky's largest food bank, Thanksgiving requires near-Herculean efforts.

The planning takes months, but the payoff is major.

"'Sharing Thanksgiving' is a fabulous thing, and God's Pantry has coordinated this community's Thanksgiving effort for quite a long time," said Marian Guinn, God's Pantry Food Bank CEO. "This year, we're distributing boxes and bags of food that will provide the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving in families' homes in 4,500 households, which probably reaches more 13,000 people."

Here's what goes into it:

■ Work begins in August. Food bank representatives meet with Fayette County referral agencies and training for how to submit clients' names.

■ Food — more than 212,000 pounds of it — is ordered and shipped to be sorted into individual boxes in November. This year, the boxes were packed on Nov. 15, with distribution on Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

■ More than 400 "volunteers" give a $20 contribution to come in and work the assembly line filling boxes for an hour and half.

■ Close to 5,000 boxes are filled; most are distributed at St. Luke United Methodist Church off Alumni Drive or Broadway Christian Church. But about 700 will be delivered to clients who can't pick them up.

In addition to recipes, each box contains:

A turkey

10 pounds of potatoes

3 pounds of onions

1 pound of margarine

1 dozen eggs

2 cans of green beans

2 cans of sweet potatoes

2 cans of mixed vegetables

2 packs of gravy mix

2 packs of cornbread stuffing mix

1 box of corn muffin mix

1 can of pear halves

1 can of applesauce

1 can of cranberry sauce

1 box of yellow cake mix

1 tub of chocolate frosting

1 box of strawberry Pop-tarts

3 packs of Mega Stuf Oreos

The box will provide a family of six with a Thanksgiving meal, with enough for leftovers. But it doesn't include frills like French's onion rings for green bean casserole, seasoning, fresh fruit, brown sugar or marshmallows.

And the quantity of food won't cover everyone who needs help.

"Currently, we reach 190,000 unique individuals annually in central and eastern Kentucky," Guinn said. But the latest statistics show about 252,000 "food-insecure people" in the food bank's service area.

"So we know we're reaching about 75 percent ... and we're continuously working to increase our reach and the amount of food we have to fill that gap," she said. "If people want to help, we are still in need of baskets being sponsored, with a $40 contribution."

You can donate to the God's Pantry Food Bank, 1685 Jaggie Fox Way, which needs canned food donations (preferably canned vegetables and soups) for its four pantries in Lexington, or by putting canned goods in the blue barrels in Kroger stores.

Or you can organize a food drive, advocate of low-income Kentuckians, or volunteer at the food bank, Guinn said.

"Thanksgiving is one day," Guinn said, "And there are families in need in this community every day of the year."

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