A long line of cars, trucks and minivans stretched far back onto Old St. Augustine Road on Monday morning before snaking around the front lawn of the Mandarin Food Bank.
All brought families in need of frozen turkeys with holiday fixings, fresh vegetables and more in a year when need has been growing.
An excited young voice came from one minivan that waited in line for an hour-plus just after 9 a.m. “Look,” a boy said as he pointed out the window. “Mom, I see doughnuts there!”
But it was more than doughnuts that brought one father with his family to the 33-year-old food bank.
“We come here for Thanksgiving,” said the man, who identified himself as Gazi. “And we are very happy that the bank helps people in need for this day.”
That is why the Mandarin Food Bank has helped thousands of needy families with financial aid, donations of food, clothing and guidance to find housing or jobs since its founding in 1990, co-director Mary Kaminski said. That includes holiday food baskets just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, mostly for regular clients of the facility at 11730 Old St. Augustine Road, who each get a ticket so they can secure their basket.
“People are very generous,” Kaminski said as a volunteer handed her someone’s used ticket with the words “Thank you. God bless” written on it.
“The need is there, and the volunteers are so generous,” Kaminski added. “And it is actually nice to do something special and give people special things for a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just nice, and the volunteers love it.”
Each basket contains a frozen turkey, produce, milk, juice, canned goods and a choice of apple or pumpkin pie. Families in need could ask for holiday baskets that feed two people, or up to eight. And the food bank also prepared sandwich packages for any walk-ups or those who are homeless, since they cannot cook a meal, Kaminski said.
The food bank has seen increasing need over recent years. It’s volunteers handed out 366 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in 2009, rising to about 550 in 2016, officials said. Its volunteers saw 420 given away in 2018, rising again in 440 in 2019 and then 423 a year ago, officials said.
As she gazed out at the winding line of vehicles at 9 a.m. Monday, 40 minutes after volunteers began giving out food baskets, co-director Bonnie Arnold said it had been a “record year” for need. Kaminski added that they expected to distribute every one of the 436 meal baskets prepared this year.
“The need has been greater, and we have been seeing over 60 families a day, which is up from 50 per day,” Kaminski said. “It’s hard to prejudge, so we are prepared for over 400.”
The food bank, part of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church across the road, receives donations from it and other churches as well as schools and nonprofit clubs that help fill the food bank’s shelves. That included more than 900 frozen turkeys donated in just the past week, a bonus that means they have enough for their annual Christmas food basket giveaway, Kaminski said.
As she sat in her car waiting for her turn in line at 9:30 a.m., Mary Sue Ellen could see the food prepared by volunteers to help her and others.
“It’s just to get some food to feed my family,” she said. “I think it’s a good job that they are doing to help the community, and I am very grateful for it.”
The food bank has about 150 volunteers who work on sorting and giving away food and other necessities during its office hours, which are 9 to 11:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Volunteers from the Mandarin Rotary Club, Knights of Columbus and area schools augment their holiday giveaways.
The Mandarin Food Bank’s Christmas giveaway, usually with a lower number of families in need than Thanksgiving, starts at 9 a.m. Dec. 20.
For information or to make donations, call (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. Feeding Northeast Florida held its annual Turkey Time on Friday at EveryBank Stadium. Clara White Mission hosted its annual Feed the City event on Saturday, for the homeless and low-income individuals.
Among the others:
- The Salvation Army of Northeast Florida will hand out 800 Thanksgiving food baskets to families who preapplied for assistance from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at its Towers Center of Hope at 900 W. Adams St.
- The City Rescue Mission’s Thanksgiving meal will be 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at its New Life Inn, at 234 W. State St.
- The Springs Church will sponsor its annual “Feast of Plenty” community meal from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Springs Church at 900 Park Ave. in Orange Park.