WRITTEN BY: ENA HUMPHRIES
COVER PHOTO COURTESY: WIX
As the weather gets colder and the holiday season approaches, the spirit of giving shines in our community. Starting in early November, Jackson High School gets into full swing with their annual non-perishable food item drive, Thanksgiving Giving. Personal donations and fundraising events, such as Leaf Relief and Senior Auction, help increase numbers in order to achieve the yearly goal; for the 2018 drive, the goal is 85,000 items. At the end of the month, when semi-trucks full of food drive away from the school, most people are unaware of where and to whom their donation is going.
The Jackson Salvation Army core community center has been established since 1885. Among the various programs the Salvation Army offers, the Thanksgiving Giving donation goes to support their Christmas Assistance Program. This program provides food items to prepare over 12,000 food boxes filled with the ingredients to cook an authentic Christmas meal.
“If we did not have Thanksgiving Giving and this partnership, we would not be able to facilitate the program we have right now,” development director Shannon Skarritt said. The sorting volunteers aim to construct boxes that are balanced nutritionally, including non-perishable food items, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and meats.
“We’re very fortunate to have some staff that go out into our community and rescue food,” Skarritt said. In this food rescue, called the Harvest, volunteers go around to different businesses in the community, like Target, Aldi, and local restaurants, and gather unused perishable food before expiration.
“Food drives like Thanksgiving Giving and other drives within the community go to supplement our different Harvest pickups,” Skarritt said.
In the Christmas boxes, the Salvation Army provides either a whole turkey, chicken, or ham, depending on the size of the family. These meats and other needed perishable food items are purchased through the Food Bank of South Central Michigan. But when making thousands of the boxes, the Salvation Army is often short on items they need and swimming in items they don’t, like Ramen Noodles and boxed macaroni and cheese.
“What we try to give out is balanced nutrition because a lot of families struggle with food insecurity,” Skarritt said. “They may have food like Ramen Noodles in their home, but this kind of food is not going to sustain them long term.” Items the Salvation Army often find themselves having to purchase for boxes include canned vegetables, fruits, beans, meats, potatoes, yams, cranberry sauce, and stuffing mix.
“We ask people to think of what you could donate that could possibly create a meal for a family that you also would want to serve your family,” Skarritt said. “Quality is very important to us because it really communicates the value of the individual.” Year round, food boxes are given out through the Emergency Food Pantry, but the Christmas boxes are generally bigger.
“When you guys are off on Christmas break, those free meals through the schools aren’t available, so we try to supplement the boxes with more food than just the Christmas dinner,” Skarritt said. Thanksgiving Giving generosity is vital in allowing the Salvation Army to offer various community assistance programs.
“Nobody else in our community does anything to the level that Jackson High’s Thanksgiving Giving does,” Skarritt said. “The fact that the largest food drive in our community happens by high schoolers means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to Salvation Army. It is the younger generation that is leading this initiative.”