Scores Of Volunteers Help Distribute Food Dec. 15
The warm efforts of volunteers at the National Guard Armory help offset bitter cold and biting wind chills on Thursday, Dec. 15, as the Vermillion Food Pantry, the Weekend Backpack Program and Feeding South Dakota joined forces with distribute 25,000 pounds of food to local folks.
A host of community volunteers, many from civic organizations in Vermillion, helped make the day a success despite the poor weather. Even National Guardsmen at the Armory got into the act. They originally were outside to offer traffic control, but many of the National Guard soldiers could be found carrying bags of food and pushing carts of groceries to waiting cars in the armory’s parking lot.
“The cold hasn’t hurt the turnout at all,” said John Lushbough, who is active with The Welcome Table and the Vermillion Backpack Program, and has been involved in two prior food giveaways held in the community. “This is the third one we’ve done, and it’s going much smoother than the last one, and I think that is our goal.”
He was thrilled with the number of volunteers who were hard at work preparing the truckload of food that had been brought to Vermillion so that it could be distributed. “It’s just unbelievable where they all come from, and it’s just wonderful.”
The giveaway began at 4 p.m. last Thursday, and was slated to last until 7 p.m. Volunteers were on hand hours before the distribution began setting up tables, helping to arrange boxes of food get everything ready for distribution.
“Everything has been going great,” said Jessica McKenzie, executive director of the Vermillion Food Pantry, as she found time to take a short break Thursday afternoon. “We’ve had even more turnout than we expected. We thought the weather might deter some people, but with the line that we’re seeing backed up, that’s not the case.”
Gone was some of the chaos that has been part of the first two food giveaways in Vermillion. The people involved, Lushbough noted, learn better ways to stage the event each time it is held here.
The armory had a festive atmosphere that afternoon. Christmas treats, hot cocoa and hot apple cider were offered to cold visitors to the building as holiday music played over the sound system.
“We got a lot better with organization this time and getting people into the building so that they weren’t waiting out in the cold,” McKenzie said. “And, especially with it being the holidays, everything has to be more personal and welcoming. With that cold weather, we wanted to make sure that everyone got inside and really felt welcomed once they stepped in. “
The event included a play area where children could have a fun time as their parents collected food.
“I think that adds another welcoming touch,” she said. “We’re trying to listen to feedback and make things more accessible and friendlier, and step away from that sterile idea of just giving food.”
Volunteers, and their organizational skills, helped make the Dec. 15 event run smoothly, she said. “We learned from the second giveaway that it was much better to have everyone assigned to a station so that they knew what they were going to be handling. We’re making sure that every little place is covered, and as people are going through the line, they know exactly what they are supposed to take.”
Several shifts of volunteers were put to work that day. McKenzie said one shift help set up for the event, one shift helped with home deliveries, and their squads of volunteers who were assigned to work the first half and the second half of the three hour event.
“And, we have volunteers who cleanup, from 7 p.m. until everything is done,” she said. “The whole idea of the various shifts is to make sure everyone has enough energy and they don’t burn out.”
The food giveaways are coordinated by The Welcome Table, the Vermillion Food Pantry, the Vermillion Backpack Program and Feeding South Dakota.
“We have to go out into the community and raise the funds to make this possible,” McKenzie said. “This giveaway was entirely paid for by the Vermillion Rotary Club, the Vermillion Lions Club and the Civic Council.
“They are all 100 percent responsible for this being able to happen,” she said. “We’re just so grateful for their support because it couldn’t happen without that financial backing. They’ve also supported us with volunteers. They hear about this at their meetings, and they get very excited, so we’ve had a lot of people get very interested in our causes, and that will extend long past the giveaways, having a deeper relationship with these organizations.”
McKenzie said in her role with the Vermillion Food Pantry, she can’t help but feel a personal responsibility to make sure that community members are fed and well taken care of, especially in times of harsh winter weather and fewer institutional resources, such as hot school lunches, because of the holiday break.
“Anytime that we find a way to do that more effectively or bigger than we have, I’m going to be overjoyed about it,” she said. “This has been a great answer to a lot of the struggles that we’ve had.
“We see our numbers increase so much during the school breaks and the holiday season at the pantry,” McKenzie said. “So being able to say not only will you get your normal food pantry allotment, you also can come here and get this big, extra load of food for the holidays. It really makes a difference for people who are going through a tough time.”