CLEARWATER — Mary Noyes would be proud.
She died in 2003. But her surviving family members — 11 children and 33 grandchildren — celebrated her memory this week by handing out Thanksgiving turkeys and care packages to 80 needy families in honor of her 80th birthday, which would have been Thursday.
"It really lets us feel that Mom is still with us," said Matthew Noyes, 42, one of her children and a Clearwater attorney who spearheads the effort.
"We give the care packages with the idea it's from our family to yours. And when and if you're able, pay it forward. Mom always said at the end of the day, 'What did you do to make the world a better place?' "
This is the fifth year the family has done a special tribute to their matriarch, a 26-year music teacher at St. Cecilia School who had a lifetime legacy of serving students and helping others, her family said.
The family spends about $2,000 on the turkeys and care packages, which always coincide with their mother's age, Matthew Noyes said.
The groceries were handed out Monday in two shifts at the law office of Perenich, Carroll, Perenich, Avril, Caulfield and Noyes, 1875 N Belcher Road, where Matthew Noyes is a partner.
It started Saturday when the family went shopping.
On Sunday, four of Noyes' children and five grandchildren, the youngest age 7, gathered to create 80 holiday food packages
On Monday, every inch of the office conference table held bags filled with stuffing and muffin mix, canned vegetables, fruit and holiday goodies.
Noyes' granddaughter Christina Bauwens, 13, gave up a day of Thanksgiving vacation to hand out care packages.
One by one, the bags disappeared, given out by the Noyes family with a smile, a handshake and a small card.
The card tells the fable that the effort, which the family has dubbed Operation Stone Soup, is modeled upon, a story of a town that triumphs over hunger by sharing food it once hoarded. As people add just one vegetable to a kettle of stones and water, the magical stew simmers into a feast for all.
Lisa Argentini of Clearwater is a part of the success of Operation Stone Soup, as she arrived ready to deliver the food to someone else. She explained as Gabrielle Noyes greeted her with a turkey and care package.
"In the neighborhood, a bunch of us try to conserve gas and do things for each other," Argentini said. "I'm picking up this care package for Shannon Thacker. It's the last thing on my to-do list."
After the packages are given out each year, the Noyes family makes their own Thanksgiving plans. They participate in the Times Turkey Trot, then gather for dinner at the family home where Mary Noyes lived with her daughter Gabrielle. At Christmas, they gather there too and read thank-you cards sent by Operation Stone Soup families.
Even before Mary Noyes' death, Matthew Noyes had begun paying forward. He left a kettle outside his home and collected food donations from neighbors.
That concept morphed into Operation Stone Soup, a holiday tradition that brings a Thanksgiving family meal to many who might not otherwise get to enjoy one.
"Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's all about family, a pure family holiday," said Gabrielle Noyes. "We are who we are because of our family."