Washington Evening Journal
http://washington-ia.villagesoup.com/p/927172

Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 19, 2014

Boxfulls of thanks

By Andy Hallman | Nov 19, 2012
Washington High School student Samantha Ellingson (left) and Lincoln Elementary teacher Jodi Ebert stuff non-perishable food items into bags for the Thanksgiving dinner giveaway. Washington faculty and volunteers gathered at Fareway Sunday evening to prepare the dinner bags, which will be distributed Tuesday evening. Ellingson is the daughter of Stephanie and Shawn Ellingson.

A group of about 35 teachers and volunteers packaged Thanksgiving dinners at Fareway Sunday night. The 174 dinners will be given to families in need Tuesday night.
The Washington Education Association pays for the meals. The teachers have raised money for the dinners for the past eight years. The teachers began doing the event to coincide with National Education Week in November.
Mike Zahs, a retired teacher who helps with the meal giveaway, said the teachers wanted to do something for the community.
“A lot of places like to have banks bring in food to the teachers,” he said. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Our bank took us out for this,’ or ‘Our bank gave us cookies.’ We decided not to worry about what was being done for us and instead focus on doing something for somebody else.”
The first step in the process is identifying the families who need the Thanksgiving dinners. The education association raises money for the event and buys as many dinners as it can with the donated funds.
In the program’s first year, the teachers collected enough money for 45 dinners. The program has grown almost every year since then. The number of meals given away is down slightly from a year ago when the teachers handed out 185 meals.
Junior high teacher Sue Spencer said that, fortunately, the price of the meals has only increased $1 in those eight years, from $16 a meal to $17 this year.
Zahs said, “We’ve added more to the meal, too.”
The meal includes the traditional turkey plus a turkey roll and cranberries. Gravy will go well with the sweet potatoes in the bag. The dinner includes canned goods and vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, corn and beans.
The meal is designed to feed four people. Large families might receive more than one meal.
Fareway manager Dave Waite said he’s glad his company can be a partner in the food drive.
“Some families who are a little less fortunate wouldn’t get a Thanksgiving meal if it wasn’t for this,” he said.  
Spencer said that the educational association is not the only organization buying dinners for needy families this Thanksgiving. First Baptist Church in Washington has purchased 40 meals they will give away this week. Another 12 came from a local church youth group.
The teachers gathered at Fareway at 5 p.m. Sunday. They packaged all the non-perishables for all 174 meals in just 13 minutes, which Spencer said was record time. The teachers had not yet completely cleared out when members of First Baptist Church entered the doors to do their own packaging.
In the early years of the program, the teachers delivered all the meals. Zahs said that was difficult because it got dark early in the evening and some houses were hard to find.
“A family might live in an upstairs apartment and you don’t know where the door is,” he said.
Zahs said that he has been moved by what he’s seen on his deliveries.
“I can remember taking food into a house, and the family sat down and started eating it right then and there,” he said. “It was the only food they had. It wasn’t Thanksgiving yet, but the meal came when they had nothing.”
Zahs said he knows of families who have repaid the favor done for them.
“We’ve had people receive a meal one or two years, and then the following year they’ll say they don’t want one and that they will buy a meal for somebody else,” he said.

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