Good Sam gears up for Thanksgiving

Paul Zurakowski, Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County volunteer, packs a box for the Thanksgiving basket distribution.

Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County volunteers are hard at work preparing for Saturday’s annual Thanksgiving basket distribution.

The distribution will be 9 a.m.-noon Saturday in the St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church parking lot.

This year will see differences to account for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, including how the food is prepared. Volunteers began an “assembly line” Nov. 11 filling two boxes for each of the 500 possible vouchers. Volunteers will prepare 1,000 boxes.

“One box is going to be a box full of canned goods and the other box will be a box full of the stuffing mix and things like that,” Cindy Black, Good Sam executive director, said. “The boxes will be pre-packed so that the day of we won’t have people standing inside this big box truck where usually we had six people in there packing the bag. We’ll have — I think she’s got five people per day back there, with two on side of the table and two on the other. We’re preparing more ahead of time rather than exposing a lot of people on the day of.”

Evelyn Edwards, pantry manager, said the change should make Saturday easier.

“Before, we used to just pack it at St. Thomas parking lot, but that was — somebody might get six cans of something of corn and only can of peas or green beans,” Edwards said. “There wasn’t consistency going in everything. This here will eliminate if there’s any rain, freezing cold weather or way too hot. It eliminates a lot of the volunteers that are going to be there, especially with COVID.”

Although time-consuming, Edwards said the strategy will become the new standard.

Visitors will also receive toilet paper thanks to a donation from the Professional Women’s Group of Tate & Lyle, Black said.

“They’re still getting all the same things,” Black said. “We seem to add a little bit more every year because we have availability and the generosity of our local people giving for this specifically, but do have a lot of different things. One of the things at the schools as we’ve talked to some of the Family Resource Centers at the school, we said, ‘What is something that you’re hearing that your families need that maybe we could put in our box?’ Well, soap. We’re adding two bars of soap to every Thanksgiving basket. Also, the thing of toilet paper. We were given (a U-Haul truck full) of toilet paper so that is why we’re able to put the packages in there. We were trying to look at items, especially in this time of COVID and the pandemic that are hard to get, that are maybe not an easy resource for our clients, and it’s just a high-cost item.”

Black said so far requests have been “steady.” As of Monday, 340 vouchers had been distributed.

Good Sam gave out 560 vouchers last year, but not everyone picked up food.

“I think people are going to be a little more conscientious and pick it up on the day of, because we don’t hold it for them,” she said. “I think we’ll probably have a higher percentage rate of pickups.”

For more information about vouchers, call Good Sam at 865-986-1777. Black asks for calls to the office when people are in front of the building. She encouraged not waiting until the last minute to request a voucher.