Amissville column for Dec. 27

Record donations to Christmas baskets

You’ve never seen so much food moved so quickly in so many directions as when more than two dozen volunteers met at Bethel Baptist Church last Thursday evening (Dec. 20), to spend two hours sorting donated food and placing it in the Christmas baskets for needy Amissville-area families.

It’s a good thing they were so efficient. Jan Makela, food collection coordinator for the enormous community effort, estimates that more than double the quantity of foodstuffs as any previous year were donated to this year’s food drive. There were also more volunteers at the church to share in the work.

Two-year-old Roland slumbers while his mother, Amissville resident Rachel Summers, sorts food donated to the Amissville Christmas Basket Project. Photo by Cathie Shiff.
Two-year-old Roland slumbers while his mother, Amissville resident Rachel Summers, sorts food donated to the Amissville Christmas Basket Project. Photo by Cathie Shiff.

Jan started off the evening by welcoming the workers and announcing that 33 local families would receive food baskets. After introductions, she set the volunteers loose to begin emptying the contents of more than 50 brown bags and boxes of food staged on rows of folding chairs placed back-to-back down the center of the room.

The result was akin to a giant Chinese fire drill, with volunteers of all ages scurrying willy-nilly, carrying food from the chairs to long tables placed along the walls. Even children just learning their letters joined in the effort, with several assisted by two mothers who carried napping toddlers in ingenious carriers on their backs.

This was the food-sorting phase, since the donations had arrived as mixed lots. That meant all the canned peaches had to be put with the fruit cocktail and the Chef Boyardee ravioli went with other cans of prepared pasta. Most of the process was orderly and surprisingly rapid.

However, some volunteers (and you know who you are) gave up trying to find where to place unusual items and instead scuttled them in the growing stacks of boxes and cans. Such irregularities were soon identified by a stern cadre of quality control (QA) agents, who correctly placed the errant items and consolidated categories as needed. They even found a place for a lone can of hearts of palm that had stumped a number of volunteers.

As QA completed the final organization of food, the sorters snacked on hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. At the same time, the methodical box-wrapping team finished covering more than 60 cardboard boxes with Christmas wrapping paper. Soon, the decorated boxes were on the chairs ready to be filled with the bounty.

During this phase, each volunteer chose an individual food item, such as pasta sauce or crackers, and began to place one of these items into each box. This reporter began with the canned pasta and then graduated to jars of pasta sauce. One seven-year-old with long black hair darted around placing a big box of saltines into each basket. When the baskets were filled, more food was placed in doubled grocery bags or a second box.

Yes, there was enough for a second box of food for each needy family. In fact, an estimated 500 pounds of leftover items will go to the Rappahannock Food Pantry.

“This is the biggest year we’ve ever had by far,” exclaimed Jan. “I am so excited about the support we have received from the community. All of this food will make the holidays special for these needy families.”

The brightly colored boxes, heavy with food, were delivered to the families and the food bank Saturday (Dec. 22). I predict sore backs for the delivery teams and holiday joy for receiving families.