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Volunteers help Project Hunger provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need

Volunteers help Project Hunger provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need

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Nearly 200 volunteers turned out early Saturday to help fill about 1,200 boxes of food that will feed needy families this Thanksgiving.

Doug Winder, president of Project Hunger, said the organization has been holding its Thanksgiving basket program for nearly 20 years.

The boxes usually are filled at the Trinity Lutheran School gym. Holiday meal baskets are filled with food items purchased by Project Hunger and distributed to needy families by volunteers and organizations throughout the community.

Because of COVID-19 concerns, this year the event was held at the Tom Dinsdale Automotive Cattle Barn at Fonner Park. The venue provided more space for the volunteers to spread out and fill the Thanksgiving baskets. Also, the organizers thought it was better to have the volunteers at the barn to help keep the school safe from coronavirus.

Each year, nonprofit agencies help nominate families in need to receive the Thanksgiving baskets, Winder said.

Volunteers began filling the baskets at 7 a.m. After all the baskets are filled, the agencies then pick them up and deliver them to the families that they nominated for the program.

Project Hunger was created in 1990 by a few concerned citizens who wanted to address the continuous shortage of food supplies at the Grand Island Community Food Pantry.

In 1991, board members were selected and they began to organize annual events to help raise money and conducted numerous food drives.

The mission of Project Hunger is to raise the awareness of the community concerning the reality of hunger on a local level and around the world. It also seeks to promote the opportunity of gathering food and monetary resources to be used in the community.

Winder said this year’s Thanksgiving basket program is serving several hundred more families than in the past. The pandemic has caused a lot of financial hardship for poorer families, especially those whose source of income is in the service industry, such as restaurants and lodging. Those businesses have been the hardest hit because of public health directives aimed at preventing the virus spread.

“The program started with 40 hams that were donated to us in 2001,” Winder said. “Since then it has grown and has grown some more.”

Hams are still the main protein that make up the Thanksgiving baskets. There also is stuffing, canned vegetables, potatoes, Jell-O, pudding, pumpkin pie, fudge brownie mix and much more.

Winder said the Thanksgiving basket provides a holiday meal for five people.

The Thanksgiving meals are made possible by generous donations from the community. To date, more than $500,000 has been raised to help feed the hungry in our community.

Project Hunger currently has 35 board members with no paid staff members. Of the money donated, 97% stays in the community to help fight hunger.

Winder said Hy-Vee provided the food at cost to Project Hunger. Highland Dairy provided a truck to haul it to Fonner Park and the several hundred volunteers come from throughout the community, including the Junior ROTC program at Grand Island Senior High School and the National Honor Society.

“We appreciate Fonner Park for letting us use their facilities,” he said.

Project Hunger also provides Easter dinner for needy families.

To learn more about Project Hunger, a 501(c)(3) Nebraska nonprofit corporation, and its mission and to donate to the organization, visit its website at projecthunger.org.

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