As cars full of those in need queued on Magnolia Avenue, dozens of volunteers gathered around tables at Auburn United Methodist Church, stuffing bags and boxes with a variety of goods.
They had all gathered on a frigid Friday morning to prepare boxes for the AUMC Food Pantry's Thanksgiving drive-thru program for the needy, which provides Lee County residents who qualify with goods like turkeys, eggs, bread and cereal for the holidays.
"We’re blessed just to see people come, and you make their day. We’re part of their Thanksgiving celebrations," said Dianne Harris, who has been volunteering with the food pantry around the holidays for about 15 years.
The program started up with the food pantry in 2000 and has grown exponentially since, from serving about 10 families the first year to distributing 354 boxes of food this year, said Reeder Dulaney, who has volunteered with the food pantry since it began.
Each box contains 71 pounds of food, with the Thanksgiving program giving away a total of about 25,134 pounds.
"We would like to think it has a huge impact on the community," said Tammie Gourdouze, who has volunteered for 10 years "We know this is a real downtime because they don’t get school lunches, so a lot of kids are not going to have as much to eat. It’s really kind of nice when you have families in a car and they’re all loading up and you know they’re going to have something to eat from now until Christmas probably and maybe they can take advantage of another program at Christmas.
"You know that they really need it. It takes a lot for some people to come and ask for food. I feel like just to see them happy is worth everything to us."
Lee Country residents who didn't receive goods for Thanksgiving will have another opportunity for Christmas, with the registration deadline set for Dec. 9 for the Dec. 16 drive-thru event. The program is open only to Lee County residents who meet income-based eligibility criteria, which must be provided on a U.S. Department of Agriculture form.
Special circumstances are also taken into account, said Harris.
"We purchase most of our product from the Food Bank (of East Alabama) at 18 cents a pound. Those are the guidelines we use. With the income, we realize everyone may have special circumstances, so we’ll look at their circumstances," she said. "They may have high bills, they may have just gotten their three grandkids because their daughter is in jail, so we realize there are special circumstances.
"It just takes one thing and you’re behind. Those are those special circumstances that we have to give grace to."