Thanksgiving for Hundreds not stopped by pandemic – Delaware State Information

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Phil Plylar, Mountaire Farms president, offers thanks to volunteers Thursday morning on the first of two packing days in the 2020 Thanksgiving for Thousands program. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

SELBYVILLE — Today is distribution day, when Mountaire Farms roasters will be added to family dinner boxes — the finishing touch to a “Thanksgiving for Thousands” like none before.

While COVID-19 has ruffled feathers, the pandemic could not derail the traditional mission of feeding the growing need of needy Delmarva families.

On Thursday and Friday, shifts of masked volunteers teamed to pack 10,000 family boxes with canned goods and other fixings earmarked for those in need.

Thanksgiving for Thousands packing volunteers, at left, Bill Kessler, and from right, State Sen. Dave Wilson, Jim Misselwitz and Jennifer Lewis, place canned goods in boxes Thursday on the first packing day. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

“Thank you for being here,” said Mountaire Farms President Phil Plylar. “This has been a really tough year for everybody here on the (Eastern) Shore. It would have been easy to cancel this event. But this year, more than any, I think we really needed it. Because of all the effort going on here today, a lot of people on Thanksgiving are going to get a meal they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“You guys and gals really help us get this off the ground,” said Zach Evans, Mountaire Farms’ community relations manager. “We’re happy to provide the resources, but it’s our communities that help us give back.”

Cathy Bassett, Mountaire Farms’ Director of Communications and Community Relations, sizes up State Sen. Dave Wilson with a volunteer shirt Thursday on the first Thanksgiving for Thousands packing day. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

To accommodate volunteers and proper social distancing, packing for the 26th annual Thanksgiving for Thousands was held outdoors, with multiple shifts at Mountaire’s Hosier Street facility in Selbyville.

Due to COVID-19, there was a limited number of volunteers at each packing event — far less than the traditional one-day packing frenzy staged in the huge warehouse.

Chip Woytowitz, Community Relations Manager for the Delmarva Shorebirds, tries on his volunteer shirt Thursday morning on the first of two packing days in Mountaire Farms’ Thanksgiving for Thousands. Mr. Woytowitz and eight other representatives from the Shorebirds were among the volunteers on hand Thursday. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

Mountaire worked closely with local and state authorities to ensure that participants followed all necessary protocols. Masks were required, and social distancing was enforced. Temperatures were taken before anyone gained access to the heated tent area.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to make this safe and a fun event,” said Cathy Bassett, director of communications and community relations at Mountaire Farms. “We’re taking it seriously. We take it seriously here at Mountaire. All our employees are very used to wearing masks and social distancing.”

Paula Romeo of Millsboro and her husband-to-be, Jim Misselwitz, were among Thursday’s volunteer packers.

“I did this long before I met Jim. This is my second time,” said Ms. Romeo, who said she isn’t too keen on the mask mandate. “It does bother me to have to wear them. I think that this is really nothing more than the flu. But we all must live with all this mess. So I just do what I have to do. But it doesn’t mean I like it.”

Mr. Misselwitz was a packing day rookie. He said he didn’t know much about Thanksgiving for Thousands’ history but has some knowledge about Mountaire.

“I’ve read a lot about the company,” he said. “It’s a real decent company.”

Delmarva Shorebirds staff also pitched in to help. Nine Shorebirds representatives stepped to the plate on the socially distanced packing lines.

“We always like to participate in the community and help wherever we can help. And it’s just a great cause,” said Chip Woytowitz, community relations manager for the Shorebirds. “We always love helping out for a good cause.”

Ms. Bassett said Mountaire received feedback from its regular volunteers that they were grateful the event could be held, even under challenging times and different circumstances.

“They look forward to it every year, doing something right before the holiday to feel good about giving back,” Ms. Bassett said.

Food box distribution day is Monday at Crossroad Community Church in Georgetown. The 10,000 boxes will be distributed through the approximately 175 community partners — churches, nonprofits and community groups.

“They (the community partners) really identify the need and reach out to us and tell us what the needs are and what they are seeing (in) the community. And certainly, the needs are great this year. They are great every year. But I think there has been so much stress on families and people losing their jobs, people who haven’t necessarily had food insecurities have food insecurities now,” said Ms. Bassett. “That’s why we decided, no matter what, we were going to figure out how to get it done this year. Shoutout to the community relations team for spending a lot of time on how to do this right.”

One casualty due to COVID-19 was the community food drive, in which volunteers stationed at designated stores seek donations to supplement packing day.

“One of the things we didn’t do this year, the usual food drive that goes with it,” said Ms. Bassett. “We thought that asking people to stand inside grocery stores right now and, (with) everything that grocery stores have been through, wasn’t a great idea … just another headache.”

Each box delivered to a needy family will contain canned corn and green beans, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, brownie mix and a Mountaire chicken that will be added on distribution day.

“Because we are packing several days in advance, we didn’t necessarily want to put the chicken in (early). Chickens are frozen and waiting,” said Ms. Bassett. “On Monday, the last thing we’re going to ask volunteers to do is, before they put it in their vehicles, they are going to throw a chicken in, and that will be the icing on the cake.”

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