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Giving Thanks, Through The Years

Holiday Meal Boxes Expected To Exceed 300 This Year

By Sierra Fleenor, GPHC Executive Director

Right about now you may be contemplating your Halloween costume or your Dia de Los Muertos sugar skulls, but here at Greater Park Hill Community, Inc., Thanksgiving is just around the corner. That means we are hoarding cans of vegetables, counting cream of mushroom soup, and asking neighbors like you to consider the cranberry – as in donating for Turkey Day.

As we prepare for our annual Thanksgiving giveaway, I took a look through the newspaper archives and talked to a few of our long-time supporters and volunteers about their experiences with this program.

27 years of Christmas baskets

As I researched the origins of GPHC’s program to provide Thanksgiving food boxes to neighbors, I found articles that tracked another giveaway dating back to 1965: the Christmas Basket Giveaway. For 27 consecutive years, from 1965 to 1991, the registered neighborhood organization offered Christmas baskets for up to 250 families per year.

“The [Christmas] food drive is supported by Park Hill churches, schools, libraries, neighborhood organizations, and businesses as well as many individuals,” noted a story in the November-December 1990 issue of Greater Park Hill News. The article went on to request financial and in-kind donations, as well as asking folks to volunteer. This program delivered baskets to neighbors in need. In 1992, the program came to halt due to a lack of volunteers.

For the next 20 years, no formal Christmas basket or other holiday-related food distribution took place at GPHC. Throughout that time, people were encouraged to donate financially to the Food Pantry or to adopt an individual family for the holidays. The annual Daddy Bruce Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, now defunct, was also promoted in the newspaper.

Five years of Thanksgiving meal boxes

In 2012, under the guidance of then-interim GPHC executive director Robyn Fishman, Brownies from Troop 1677 worked with GPHC to “prepare Thanksgiving food boxes complete with turkeys, gravy, stuffing, pies, cranberry sauce, rolls and several traditional vegetable sides to serve over 50 people,” according to an article in the GPHN December 2012 issue. That year, Fishman also oversaw a holiday adopt-a-family and a coat drive.

The next year 57 families received boxes filled with fixings for Thanksgiving dinner.

Over the next several years, the Thanksgiving giveaway continued to grow.

“In 2014, we incorporated families from Smith Elementary and Turkey Up at Park Hill Elementary, and we served 177 families,” noted former GPHC Executive Director Rebecca Born in the November 2016 issue of GPHN. “[In 2015] we packed and distributed an incredible 294 full Thanksgiving boxes.”

Last year, Born oversaw the distribution of more than 250 boxes, providing approximately 1,350 with everything needed for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Around 75 of the turkeys distributed were provided by REALGiving, a program created by neighborhood realtors in Park Hill and Stapleton. Last year REALGiving also provided support to more than 150 additional families beyond those supported by GPHC. REALGiving provides families at the schools they support with gift cards for the holidays, coordinating with GPHC to cover as many families in need as possible.

Anticipating 300-plus this year

We have already experienced an increase in the number of new clients in recent months and we know that this will be reflected in this year’s Thanksgiving drive. GPHC will serve our Food Pantry clients, as well as families at Smith Elementary, Park Hill Elementary, and Roots Elementary.

We anticipate distributing Thanksgiving boxes, complete with turkeys, to over 300 families this year. We are going to need your financial and food donations to pull this distribution off.

Again this year we will coordinate our efforts with REALGiving, which is currently led by Jay Epperson, a local realtor. “REALGiving is a way to harness the power of great neighborhood communities that support our businesses,” Epperson said. Together realtors and their clients complete “a circle of giving and support at the closest, most critical population at your neighborhood school.”

Epperson and REALGiving will plan to provide gift cards to as many families as possible, as well as dozens of turkeys to GPHC to distribute to clients and families. You can follow their efforts on Facebook at: facebook.com/REALGivingParkHill.

Beyond financial and food donations, we also need people power to help sort, fill, and distribute boxes. We begin the process of collecting donations, organizing and assembling food boxes in mid-November. This may seem early, but we actually distribute more than half of the boxes we give away before schools let out on the Friday before Thanksgiving (this year on Nov. 17). The rest will be completely distributed by Tuesday, Nov. 21, which is two days before the holiday.

“It’s a great opportunity to volunteer in the Park Hill community and meet neighbors,” noted Sue Weinstein, a longtime volunteer with the Food Pantry. Claudia Fields, lead Weekend Food Program volunteer, agreed. “You really feel the spirit of community volunteering for a project like this that serves so many people.”

Check out our website at greaterparkhill.org/programs/thanksgiving for more information about volunteering, and about what items we need donated. Even if you have volunteered before, please get in touch to let us know you’re in again for this year, so we have a good idea of the talent on hand.

In Fields’ words, “This is another way we can be community for each other, strengthen one another, and be sustainable.”

We hope you will join us in this exceptional effort this holiday season. Learn more at the website or by calling 303-388-0918.


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