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Generosity grows in West Pasco, and so does the thanks

Last Thanksgiving, a small army of volunteers delivered hot turkey dinners to 200 people in West Pasco. It was inspiring. We wrote about it, took pictures.

What a milestone this was for the Community Service Council as it celebrated 29 years of helping people in need. Just a few years earlier, its Thanksgiving program meant dinner for folks who showed up at a church in New Port Richey. Now 200 people were getting home delivery.

Well, check out what year 30 will bring.

"A thousand people," said Victoria Barley, the council president. "Can you believe it? We're going to serve a hot Thanksgiving dinner to 1,000 people."

Barley, who is also the president of the local Board of Realtors, has a front-row seat to the realities of this community, which has always depended on the housing market. People are out of work in record numbers. And when volunteers set out with their boxes of hot food on Thanksgiving morning, some of the addresses may be surprising.

"Last year, most food went to the very poor," said Vish Singh, who with his wife, Sero, runs Jennifer Gardens assisted living facility. "This year there will be more of the (former) middle class. People are losing their homes."

The Singhs were instrumental in pushing the program into a higher gear. They got five other assisted living facilities to join them in preparing the dinners in their commercial kitchens, where volunteers could pick up food for delivery. This year, there are 16 kitchens.

Most of the generous souls who donate their time in the council work in social services or health care, and they spread the word about the free Thanksgiving dinners. A week before the holiday, some 50 volunteers will get a list of the families they will serve. They will visit the families in advance to make sure they know what to expect.

The 16 facilities will donate and prepare all the food — turkey, mashed potatoes, casseroles, vegetables, cranberries, dessert, and even baby formula as needed. At 10:30 a.m. the army will mobilize, and by noon all 1,000 applicants will have their meals.

Vish Singh envisions serving twice that many people next year, reaching out to hotels and restaurants. "The food doesn't cost a lot, and one turkey will feed 25 to 30 people," he said. "It's mainly time and effort. The volunteers have the hardest job, but I can tell you, it makes them feel good."

Last year, when our reporter tagged along on deliveries, she witnessed scenes of joy, especially among children. Without the donation, one woman said, "We would have had Hamburger Helper."

When Barley spoke to me about the program last week after another of several organizational meetings, her voiced soared and her eyes filled with tears. "This makes all of us so proud," she said.

Like everything else, I suppose, this is a mixed bag. It's another reminder of a disastrous economy and the suffering that comes with it. But it's uplifting as well, an example of something that's right in our little community.

For this charitable example, we should all be thankful.

Generosity grows in West Pasco, and so does the thanks 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 1:54pm]
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