Thousands able to celebrate Thanksgiving thanks to local organizations – Monterey Herald

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Thanks to the generosity and determination of a few local Monterey organizations, over 1,000 families in need were able to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

The Food Bank for Monterey County, Kiwanis Club of Monterey and the city of Monterey Recreation Division partnered up once more to distribute free Thanksgiving meal kits to families Wednesday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Dennis the Menace park was transformed into an organized and fast-paced distribution site.

Volunteers from the Defense Language Institute and the partnering organizations swiftly funneled hundreds of cars into the small parking lot, where they loaded fresh produce and frozen turkeys into the backs of cars in the blink of an eye.

The meal kit included all the ingredients for a traditional Thanksgiving meal for a family of four, or larger meal kits for families of six to eight.

Melissa Kendrick, the Food Bank for Monterey County’s CEO and executive director, explained that the food bank organized eight separate meal kit distributions. The organization put together and distributed 25,000 meal kits for the holiday, including both traditional Thanksgiving meal kits and pozole kits.

But the food bank couldn’t have distributed the kits without the help of its volunteers and the generosity of local organizations, said Kendrick.

Taylor Farms donated fresh produce for the kits, including all of the spinach. And normally, the food bank receives a large amount of donated turkeys for the holiday, Kendrick added. But this year, the organization was forced to purchase the turkeys because they only received a few donations. Cardinale Automotive Group stepped in to fund all of the protein purchases for all 25,000 meal kits, said Kendrick.

“They have generous hearts,” Kendrick said. “They’ve also helped us several days where they’ve brought their teams from all of their dealerships out packing.”

As a nonprofit organization, the food bank relies on donations and volunteers to be able to provide all of its resources to community members in need, she said.

Students from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center joined the effort Wednesday to help distribute the meals and run the event.

Shamaul Howe, a member of the United States Navy, said the partnership offered the students and military members the chance to give back to the community and help families in need.

“We’re all just trying to play our part to make the holidays a little easier,” Howe said. “For me, it’s a privilege (and) an honor to be in the position to give back. … I always had a desire to try to help give back to the community and I love doing things like this because of the fact that Thanksgiving means a lot. It gives us the opportunity to take a pause and really reflect on where we are at in our life, where we’ve been, what we’re thankful for.”

Kendrick said the food bank also had sandwiches and other food available to distribute to community members who didn’t have access to kitchens or were experiencing homelessness.

The Salvation Army Monterey Peninsula Corps also distributed turkeys and grocery store gift cards to community members earlier this week. And for those experiencing homelessness or not able to cook, the organization offered a free Thanksgiving lunch Wednesday afternoon.

From 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the organization’s chapel on 1491 Contra Costa St., Salvation Army volunteers served hot plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and other Thanksgiving meal staples.

By noon, Major John Bennett said the organization had already served around 50 individuals, and he was hoping for double that.

“I think it’s something special,” Bennett said of the lunch. “A lot of times (people) have to line up (and) the meal is kind of industrial. This is really nice, to have a place to sit down, eat as much as you want. And I think for some of them, it speaks to that (feeling of) home.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership between the food bank, the city of Monterey and the Kiwanis Club featured a sit-down Thanksgiving meal at the Monterey County Fairgrounds. The organizations switched to a no-contact drive-thru distribution system after the pandemic, and Kendrick said she anticipates that system will stay for the foreseeable future.

“I think this is the new future for now. We do have several sit-down events, but they’re smaller now,” she explained. “ I think the days where we bring 500 people … (and) serve 3,500 meals at those, … I think that has become increasingly difficult. Volunteers just haven’t returned at that level. … This is just the safer bet and I think people just feel more comfortable and it’s easier to do in smaller settings.”

Kendrick said as long as donors continue to provide the resources and funds, the food bank will continue to do everything it can to solve hunger in the county.

“Food should not be something we can’t solve,” she said. “I am convinced we can go from being one of the hungriest counties to one of the healthiest counties, 40.6% of our population are food insecure. For me, for my staff or all of us that care deeply about our community, that’s a really hard thing to grapple with.”

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