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Giving thanks; giving back

"Controlled chaos" is a term that comes to mind. Last Friday, the Manassas Adventist Prep School gym was buzzing with activity as dozens of volunteers filled hundreds of boxes with thousands of cans for the annual SERVE food drive. The food had been arriving for some time. Businesses, Scouts and schools brought it by the truckload, according to Deb Fairbanks, chair of the Operation Turkey project.

Giving thanks; giving back

Times Photo/Adam Goings Members of Cub Scout Pack 1833 from Haymarket, the Nokesville 4-H Club and Girl Scout Troop 1908 create an assembly line for meal packages as they pack food for Operation Turkey.
"Controlled chaos" is a term that comes to mind. Last Friday, the Manassas Adventist Prep School gym was buzzing with activity as dozens of volunteers filled hundreds of boxes with thousands of cans for the annual SERVE food drive.
The food had been arriving for some time. Businesses, Scouts and schools brought it by the truckload, according to Deb Fairbanks, chair of the Operation Turkey project.
Wearing a name tag declaring her title to be "Queen Gobbler," Fairbanks spent most of Friday directing volunteers inside the gym.
"There are about 24,000 pounds from the schools, we collected 20,000 pounds from the Boy Scouts and about 10,000 pounds from Prince William Hospital,” she said, counting up numbers scrawled on a notepad and figuring she'd accepted about 55,000 pounds of food in total.
“That's a lot of stuff. That's a lot of stuff when you have to move it all.”
According to volunteer coordinator Jan Hawkins, it's a lot more food than they usually get for Thanksgiving.
“It's been much higher than last year,” she said.
In particular, she added, the Boy Scouts' Scouting for Food
“I think people are more aware of their neighbors in need and are doing more,” she said.
In addition, many families who got help from SERVE in the past are now in a position to give some back, she added.
While many help out by donating food, many others give their time.
Hawkins said about 600 people had signed up to help with Operation Turkey, not including the Boy Scouts' own large-scale effort to collect and drop off food.
Among the helpers on Friday were students from Manassas Christian School.
Wearing matching green school jackets, a dozen students, ages 11-14, were busy on Friday sifting through donation boxes and then sorting food into crates with labels such as “pasta,” “chili,” and “pie crusts.”
Their social studies teacher, Leonard Pumphrey, said the school's entire student population – 34 students – all come in different shifts. It's a school tradition, he said.
“They all come. We believe it's important to give back to the community,” he said. “You have to learn to give to others.”
In addition to helping out, the school also sent 15 boxes of food.
They weren't the only ones.
Fairbanks said the volunteers would soon be joined by “a gazillion” Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, who delivered food and planned to return later to help sort and pack.
Businesses sent out teams as well; on Friday, a large contingent arrived from Exxon Mobile, all wearing red t-shirts and pushing crates around the room.
An Air Force soldier entered in full uniform, lugging an oversized box full of food.
As he placed it on the ground, another group came in behind him, announcing themselves as members of the Church of the Brethren.
After awhile, the number of empty donation boxes were becoming a hazard so Fairbanks halted the sorting operation and instructed volunteers to start removing empties instead.
Once all the food was sorted, she said it would be divvied into reusable grocery bags, donated by Wegman's of Gainesville.
Work would continue through Saturday and recipients would arrive on Sunday and Monday to pick up their bags.
Each bag contains enough food for a family of four, including a voucher that recipients can use to buy a turkey or other meat at a local grocer.
While recipients were still signing up on Friday, Hawkins said she expected there would be about 1,000 families altogether.
“Maybe a tad lower,” she said.
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