Sunday, December 15, 2013

Packing Christmas boxes

Every year the local Elks Lodge packs Christmas boxes of food and gifts for those who request them. This morning we went and helped with the project.

On average the Elks donate supplies to 250 families. Each family receives two boxes of food (more for larger families). We got there early just as they were taping together the boxes.

Food is donated or purchased wholesale from local grocery stores. At minimum, each box has the contents of this list, but this doesn't even touch on everything that gets included. This list is just the dry, boxed, or canned items. There are also frozen turkeys or hams, fresh fruits and vegetables, bags of potatoes, bread, pumpkin pies, and other goodies -- literally enough to feed a family for a week or more with careful planning. If there's extra food left over after all the boxes are packed, then it's divvied up and spread out among the boxes.

Here's a fraction of the donated or purchased food, waiting to be portioned out into boxes.

Ranged along each side of the hall are stations for presents, sorted according to age and gender. Gifts are donated by individuals. Each family gets a minimum of one gift per child, more if there are extra gifts left over when all the requests are filled.

While some people set up the boxes for the food, other people started "running" gifts to the various stations.

Volunteers started filling the boxes.

I stationed myself at one of the the gift-wrap tables. Along with many others, I wrapped and wrapped and wrapped. Kids acted as runners, delivering a pile of gifts ("This is for Girls, 7 to 9!") then ran the wrapped presents back to the appropriate stations.

Gradually the piles of wrapped gifts replaced the unwrapped.

Lots of industry.

A portion of the box contents.

One sad little note is, for the first time, five-pound bags of flour and sugar, bags of noodles, and packages of pancake mix were not being included for distribution. Why not? Because too many recipients simply throw them away. The reason is -- I'm not kidding -- they don't know what to do with them. So the Elks volunteers take a lot of the staples and give them to grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, presumably because grandparents know what to do with staples.

But the important thing is to get boxes to where they're needed, rather than worry about people who don't know how to cook from scratch.

Late in the morning, Don (who was acting as a "go-fur" during much of the morning) was sent for a bunch of pizzas to feed the hungry crew, many of whom had skipped breakfast in order to get there early.

We missed church this morning to help with this project, but we figured this was like a church service all by itself. It was wonderful to be among a lot of folks with Good Things on their mind.

On the way home we passed some ice fishermen. The weather has been above freezing lately, so I guess these guys are trying to get their fishing in while they can.


  1. I'm so glad you did this! Thank you for keeping the spirit alive. I love the pictures.

    Hubby and I did this one year. Had a blast. Since we had a big truck, we also got drafted as one of the "deliverers."

    We learned that being a deliverer required a whole different skill set. You gotta be quick, with no expectation of small talk. We would act like WE were the ones who didn't have time to talk, setting the box down on the front step with a nod and a quick tip of the hat. Then a "Merry Christmas!" and we'd be off.

    We saw relief in the eyes of many. Defeat in the eyes of some.

    SIDEBAR: No flour, sugar, pasta or even pancake MIX because it would get thrown out?! Say it ain't so!

    Not my place to judge.

    I haven't made pancakes from a mix in, well, never mind how long. Long enough to know I could never go back! My homemade-from-scratch waffles are simply the best you'll ever eat....she said with all the humility she could muster.

    Just Me

    1. You aren't the only one. . .my husband wouldn't eat pancakes (too doughy he said) until I had him try my homemade from freshly ground whole wheat flour. Now he won't eat any other kind. People do not know what they are missing.

    2. Please include recipes for those who only know how to make the box stuff. That is why I come here, to learn from the pros! Thanks!!!

  2. I used to run a food pantry so I know the hard work you did! Sometimes I would take a simple recipe, make it and pass out samples at the box distribution time, and enclose a copy with Lots of directions for the recipe. Not sure how much it helped.

    I think it would be great to include in the boxes a copy of Dining on a Dime. I think that is a great basic cookbook with no weird ingredients. That way they have some instructions! Of course, you can't fix lazy but that's a topic for another day.

  3. What a kind act! Merry Christmas and God's blessings.

  4. That's great what you are doing. I'm terrified about people not knowing what to do with the staples.....that means that their circumstantial poverty may turn into dependence which is a nasty cycle.....

  5. What a blessing your time spent was to these receiving families. May God bless you and your family this holiday season. On another note, it still amazes me how few people today know how to cook with staples. I live in a rural community in the Ohio valley and still most people think cooking is adding water or opening a box to put in the oven. This is of great concern to me as the economic conditions continue to deteriorate. Thankfully my mother taught me to cook from scratch and my daughters do also. Growing up on a dairy farm with a large garden helped in those lessons. P.S. I love your blog and your book. We could have been sisters from different mothers. sadie21962

  6. People who cook from scratch frequently forget all the little things that go in each recipe. Salt, eggs, oil, baking powder, baking soda, etc. You also have to have something to mix it in and something to cook in. If somebody is needy enough for a food box they may not have all that.

    1. An extremely good point.

      - Patrice

    2. also may have had fuel supply turned off for nonpayment
      used to hear poor would throw away dirty clothes. found it is because no $$ for soap of any kind. wear till filthy go to donators for fresh supply.
      some are too disabled to scrub or have no money or transport for laundromat.
      many factors.

    3. My observation of late has been EBT cards are being used at places they should convenience store. My husband and I watched a young woman with three children fill them up with chips, soda, and chocolate bars at a gas bar we were at, all paid for with an EBT card. Misuse and lack of knowledge are a huge concern.

  7. I know that very few younger people cook from scratch (my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren cook most things from scratch, thank goodness!). As a result our food band concentrates on the things on your pantry's list. I have on a few occasions put a box of rice mix in a plastic bag with a can of chopped ham or chicken so that the recipients can put them together. Don't know if they will even go to that much trouble although they always want mac and cheese. I hope none of them do what one of them did: since she always cooked condensed soup and little else, she added a can of water to her canned vegetables!

  8. Tremendous custom. America in action.


  9. Wow! That is awesome that you and many other folks took the time to do those things for those less fortunate. To God be the glory for those acts of kindness. It warms my heart and makes me realize that there are still lots of caring people out there. I can't help but think that the many welfare programs have encouraged so many young people to be lazy and dependent on other peoples money. So many have developed that "entitlement" attitude that makes them so ungrateful and demanding. Many people need help and that's where the "church" comes in; not the government. I'm glad that spirit still lives on in the lives of the truly deserving folks. God bless your family and all those that help the elderly, widow/ers, orphans, etc. It truly makes sense that it's a season to give of ourselves (time, efforts, money) when we realize that: 'HE'S the reason for the season'....God is good! all the time.

  10. Exactly right on the "add-ins". Our local pantry gives away Thanksgiving baskets every year, including canned pumpkin for pie. No evaporated milk, spices, or eggs.

    I volunteered at the pantry for quite a while and saw first hand those who turned down staples. Trying not to judge here....I'm not really sure how many of those we saw would have the ambition to use them even if you provided recipes. We allowed free choice shopping so no one got things that they couldn't/wouldn't use. A guideline for quantity was provided and they chose the items.

    PS. They wouldn't take oatmeal either!! Yes, I know its healthy, cheap and good.....but that's not what "everyone else" eats and we have never trained the kids to eat what's available.

  11. Our local food drive no longer takes donations of flour or any items that involve serious cooking. It seems few people who need hampers know how to cook and the baking supplies were just being thrown away. We have been discussing this and hope to put together a weekly or Bi weekly cooking school. This set of recipes with the photos is just a super idea. I really enjoyed it!
    Great work!