Volunteers brave the first snowfall to bring Thanksgiving meals to those in need

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Ashley McCallum
Sunday, November 19, 2017

JANESVILLE--As the first snowflakes of the season frantically flurried outside, volunteers flurried inside to make last-minute fixes before clients arrived.

Delivery drivers stuffed cars with boxes, children waddled in snow gear behind their bustling parents, and helping hands stuffed bags with pumpkin pies.

The baskets were finally ready.

About 300 volunteers scurried in and around the Stock Pavilion at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds to stuff and distribute food baskets at the annual ECHO Thanksgiving Basket Distribution event Saturday morning.

ECHO Assistant Director Jessica Locher said about 600 families received baskets this year. The food goes to families that can’t afford holiday meals.

Recipients provided proof of income and residency before signing up for meals, Locher said.

After delivery drivers rolled out onto their routes, clients with access to transportation trickled in behind them.

Volunteers traveled with shopping carts down an assembly line of turkeys, potatoes, onions, carrots, stuffing, cookies, pies and Cool-Whip, filling the carts as they went along.

This year, recipients got their baskets similarly to how they would get a burger and fries from a fast-food restaurant--with a drive-thru. Locher said moving the event from the Fairgrounds' Craig Pavilion, where it has been hosted in past years, allowed experimentation with the new delivery system.

Recipients didn’t need to get out of their cars to get their baskets. They pulled up, had volunteers load their cars and drove away.

The first car of the day was a green pick-up belonging to Margaretta and Andres Sanchez. The couple have received baskets from ECHO the last couple of years, Magaretta said.

Margaretta and Andres are both disabled, making it difficult to gather resources on their own. Their basket will feed nine family members who will gather around the Sanchez table Thursday, Margaretta said.

Carly Buckman, 14, rolled her cart through puddles of melted snow and mud to the Sanchez’s vehicle. She greeted the couple with a cheery “Happy Thanksgiving.”

The Craig High School student loaded the truck with a smile shining through her braces.

Buckman said she volunteered with her mom because she enjoys helping her community. She also volunteers at Cargill United Methodist Church in Janesville, she said.

“It’s really special for me. I like to help,” she said before racing back to the pavilion to complete the process all over again.

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