An army of volunteers quickly unloaded three 26-foot U-haul trucks in the early morning hours on Saturday outside Sumner High School. The trucks were full of turkeys, pies, potatoes and everything else that’s needed for Thanksgiving meals.
The items were quickly assembled into 600 individual meals for the inaugural Community Big Give, a collaborative program coordinated by the Sumner School District’s Sumner Family Center, St. Andrew Church’s Emmanuel Food Pantry, Living Hope Church and Faith Covenant Church.
“We had more volunteers than we could ever imagine,” said Brent Osburn, pastor at Living Hope Church. “Our volunteers have been off the charts. By the end of the day, we will have about 150 volunteers.”
The Community Big Give has taken a year to plan. Osburn completed a 10-month apprenticeship last November under pastor Thad Huff at Open Life Church in Bonney Lake. Huff organized the original Community Big Give in November 2010 in response to the need within the Sumner School District.
Last year, Huff taught Osburn how to organize a similar event from start to finish.
Huff asked the Sumner School District how his church could help families in need during Thanksgiving.
“They pointed us to Liberty Ridge Elementary School as the school with the most need,” he said. “We contacted their principals, counselors, and asked if there would be a way to provide Thanksgiving meals to all the families that would have that need in that school. And they said, ‘Yes.’”
In 2010, Open Life Church provided 150 meals to families at the school. In 2011, the church partnered with the Bonney Lake Food Bank and distributed meals from an empty storefront adjacent to the Albertson’s that existed at the time.
Last year, the church coordinated with Wal-Mart to serve 450 families.
“After the fall 2012 event, Sumner wanted to get involved,” Huff said. “Brent apprenticed with us and saw how it ran.”
Osburn said his church and the rest of Sumner didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.
“One of the things we believed was that the church has resources, and there are already organizations doing this, so let’s partner with them,” Osburn said.
The inaugural Community Big Give at Sumner High School on Saturday served more than 160 families. Through the school district’s Sumner Family Center, between 300 and 350 vouchers were handed out to families identified as those most in need. An additional 75 vouchers were distributed to families through the Emmanuel Food Pantry at St. Andrew Church.
“We have more food than people,” said Arlene Evavold, coordinator at Emmanuel Food Pantry. “Anything that doesn’t go out today, we will distribute during Christmas time.”
Evavold also anticipated families who didn’t show up Saturday likely would visit the food pantry the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. She gathered food for the Community Big Give from the Grocery Outlet in Bonney Lake and Winco Foods in Sumner. About $7,000 in cash donations were donated to support the effort.
Most sponsors donated at least $200 each, Osburn said. Faith Covenant Church contributed the most at $2,000. Osburn also thanked TJ Specialty Printing for the bright green tote bags and design. Each bag was filled with stuffing, crescent rolls, green beans, onions, olives and other meal items.
Volunteers worked in groups of three. Each team transported a turkey, a pumpkin pie, a bag of potatoes and a tote bag to family vehicles.
Jeannie Rowland, a teacher at Maple Lawn Elementary in Sumner, volunteered during the early morning shift and was part of the team that unloaded the trucks.
“It warms my heart,” she said. “It’s amazing they can make 600 meals, and at the same time, it’s surprising that there is that many in need.
Rowland said the volunteer team started at 7 a.m. By 8:09 a.m., they had unloaded the trucks and assembled the meals.
“All on a freezing morning,” she said.
Terry Todd, a retired professional who lives in Sumner with her husband, came with a voucher she received from the food pantry.
“It’s awesome,” she said. “This is really good.”
Todd said with Thanksgiving at the end of the month, she has been waiting for that last paycheck to come.
“It helps my family get by through the holiday,” she said.
Huff said he’s excited about the community groups coming together to spread the giving from Bonney Lake to Sumner.
“As soon as you step out in the community, it allows everyone to step up to the table,” he said. “It’s beautiful. It’s a great story for the community.”
Between Community Big Gives in Bonney Lake and Sumner, enough food was available for 1,200 families in need.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001.