With Thanksgiving less than three weeks away, local nonprofits are gearing up to assemble holiday dinners for a growing number of financially stressed families.
"The Star of the Sea Outreach Mission will again be distributing holiday baskets for needy families," said Tom Callahan, the mission's director. "Last year, we distributed more than 200 baskets at Christmas, and close to the same amount at Thanksgiving."
This month the mission hopes to put together and deliver 300 baskets, but with a change.
"Last year the baskets each weighed an average of 25 pounds and included either a turkey or a ham, but this year we want to try something different," Callahan said.
The basket will still include bread, vegetables and desserts but also a $15 gift certificate to a local grocery store so each family can buy the meat they prefer. Those gift certificates will cost $9,000.
"Donors can consider helping us with a cash donation earmarked towards this program, or even a $15 gift certificate from Fausto's Food Palace, GFS, Publix, Winn-Dixie or Albertsons. The gift certificates will be clearly marked "food only" and cannot be used for alcohol or cigarettes," Callahan said.
For more information, call the mission at 305-292-3013 or St. Paul's Episcopal Church, which is working with the mission, at 305-296-5142.
The mission is not the only organization getting food ready for the holiday. The Key West Rotary, Wesley House Family Services, the Salvation Army of Key West, and other groups are putting together food baskets and preparing to deliver hot meals on Thanksgiving.
At Key West Noon Rotary, President Rudy Molinet said his organization is preparing to distribute turkeys and food baskets donated by local grocery stores to schools. The schools then call families to pick up the baskets, he said.
"This really is a time of need," Molinet said. "It's unbelievable the need out there. People are in desperate situations."
Though the Rotary Club has been delivering the baskets to homes for a dozen years, it now lets the schools distribute the turkeys, food or gift certificates.
The group works in conjunction with counselors at Horace O'Bryant Middle School, Sigsbee Charter School, Glynn Archer Elementary School and Key West High School, and those counselors help determine which students are from needy families.
"They have their fingers on the pulse of who needs food," he said. "There's no requirement to prove one's needy, but we serve families from Bahama Village to Stock Island."
Last year, the Rotary distributed 60 turkeys with canned food, stuffing and other items. The club will receive donations of turkeys from local stores again this year.
To contact the Rotary to donate or help out, call 305-240-1090.
Salvation Army effort
The Salvation Army in Key West also receives donated turkeys from local grocery stores and private donors who provide monetary donations to buy food, said Tom Wagner, volunteer accountant for the Salvation Army. But there always is a need for more help and food, he said.
The Salvation Army delivers hot meals to shut-ins in Key West and the Lower Keys, and spends the day before Thanksgiving cooking and preparing meals for delivery Thanksgiving Day.
"On Thanksgiving morning our volunteers meet here to put everything together, and then other volunteers deliver the meals to the homes," Wagner said. "It's quite a good little program -- but it's actually not so little."
To donate food or volunteer time, call the Salvation Army at 305-294-5611.
Wesley House helps
Wesley House Family Services, which provides foster care, child care and family support services in Monroe County, also puts together Thanksgiving meals for the holidays.
The Westin Key West Resort and Marina donates turkeys to Wesley House, and agency staff members collect food to complete the meals. Wesley House staff put together eight baskets last year, not counting the 35-40 baskets they distributed using the Westin turkeys.
In addition to distributing the food baskets in conjunction with the Metropolitan Community Church, Wesley House also developed a new fund called "Food for our Families."
"It's one of the donation opportunities we offer the community in our appeals," said Mindy McKenzie, the Wesley House coordinator for the food drives. "We buy food cards for our families. It's restricted to Wesley House client families."
To contact Wesley House, call 305-809-5000.