The end was near for Tanya May, after waiting in a long line of cars in front of the Mandarin Food Bank early Monday to receive a frozen turkey with holiday fixings, fresh vegetables, sausage, eggs and a pie.
The Mandarin grandmother is one of 423 people who ended up with holiday food during the annual Thanksgiving food giveaway held by the 32-year-old food bank.
As her car snaked its way toward dozens of volunteers loading the boxed turkey meals into cars, May said it was her sixth year coming there for some holiday help. But this year, her need has been greater.
“The economy is beating me down with the price in the store. I have grandkids and kids, and I am just not able to afford that,” she said. “They are always here for me. I don’t care when I come here, they are always here. They are great people. They are angels to me!”
Ahead of her in a line that had 100 cars snaking through a staging area in the food bank’s front lawn sat John Tarr. Due to a lack of work, he said he needs this Thanksgiving help.
“It saves me some money that I don’t have. Social Security doesn’t give you a lot,” he said. “I am glad they have it. They do a good job.”
Since its founding in 1990, the Mandarin Food Bank has helped needy families with financial aid, donations of food, clothing and guidance to find housing or jobs. And just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, those regular clients get a food basket at the facility at 11730 Old St. Augustine Road.
The food bank has seen increasing need in recent years.
Co-director Bonnie Arnold said she was not surprised to see cars already in line at 6:30 a.m. Monday, two hours before the giveaway began, growing to many more waiting on Old St. Augustine and Hood Landing roads.
“We feel very grateful that we are able to help them, and we also are saddened,” she said. “I know that I should be worried about the economy, but there’s just gratitude about how we take care of each other. We are only here to do what Jesus taught us to do, and that is feed the hungry and clothe the poor.”
Its volunteers gave out 366 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in 2009, rising to about 550 in 2016, with 420 given away in 2018, officials said. In 2019, 440 food baskets were given away to people, Arnold said.
In total, the facility helped 22,231 families in 2021 in total, 14,664 of those by the end of October. This year, the number of families helped as of this past October rose to 18,844, Arnold said. So they prepared 500 Thanksgiving baskets just in case.
“Our client needs have gone up,” Arnold said as she sat in the food bank kitchen and some of the 60 volunteers nearby sorted vegetables and canned goods into bags for others to pack in boxes.
“Many more people are signing up,” Arnold said. “I know that we are about 4,000 people ahead of the same time last year. We really need, and still do always, like canned meat, protein, any kind of protein like canned beans, shelf-safe cheese and soups.”
The food bank receives donations from parishioners at nearby churches as well as schools and nonprofit clubs that help fill the food bank’s shelves, part of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church across the road. Supply chain problems during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the rising cost of food, have caused problems filling the pantry.
“It’s been difficult to get ahold of things, and so much easier to ask the community to get it than for us to go and try to purchase it in bulk at a store,” she said.
Despite concerns that the rising cost of turkeys would cause community donations to drop, Arnold said something good happened this year and “they just came flooding in,” with 800 this fall. That means the food bank will have enough left over for its Christmas food basket giveaway.
“I think people understand how difficult it is to put food on their table,” Arnold said. “So they understand how much more difficult it will be for our families, and us, to do the same thing. I am grateful for so much, but I am grateful mostly for this spirit that our Mandarin community has had.”
Another 30 or 40 more families will probably get a Thanksgiving basket from them before the week is over, organizers said. And the Mandarin Food Bank will prepare 400 holiday baskets for Christmas, that food giveaway starting at 9 a.m. Dec. 20.
The food bank’s office hours are 9 to 11:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. For information or to make donations, call at (904) 292-1675 or go to facebook.com/MandarinFoodBank.
Other Thanksgiving food basket giveaways
Other food basket giveaways are planned in the city this week.
Some already occurred, with Feeding Northeast Florida holding its annual Turkey Time on Friday at TIAA Bank Field. Clara White Mission hosted its annual Feed the City event on Saturday, for the homeless and low-income individuals.
The Salvation Army of Northeast Florida will hand out 800 Thanksgiving food baskets to families who pre-applied for assistance from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at its Towers Center of Hope at 900 W. Adams St.
The City Rescue Mission’s Thanksgiving meal is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at its New Life Inn, at 234 W. State St.
First Baptist Church of Orange Park will sponsor its annual free meal for the needy from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday in its gymnasium, at 1140 Kingsley Ave.