Dozens of empty boxes lined the fold-out tables, set up in rows at the back of Midway United Methodist Church’s gym.
As the afternoon progressed, the boxes began to fill — stuffed with bagels and fruit and ready-to-cook chicken and turkey breast filets.
For about two hours on Sunday, more than 500 volunteers chopped, scooped and stirred fruits, vegetables and meats as part of Meals by Grace’s pre-Thanksgiving packing event.
While the nonprofit, which works with local schools to identify children in need and seeks to feed and serve their families, packs weekly meal boxes for 63 families every Sunday. Usually, about 160-170 volunteers show up, according to Meals by Grace board member Mark Jones.
He said the pre-Thanksgiving and Christmastime packings turn out the most volunteers — about 110 of which came from the Longhorn Youth Lacrosse Association as part of the group’s “LAX Gives Back” on Sunday.
“Most people worry about eating too much or having too much dressing — those are not what these families are worried about,” Jones said. “They’re worried about running out of food, period.”
Rob Fox, vice president of the lacrosse association, said that is exactly why the organization chose to volunteer with Meals by Grace.
“The Longhorn Youth Lacrosse Association [recently] decided we were going to give a ‘LAX Gives Back’ day,” he said. “We are the feeder team for the Lambert Longhorns lacrosse program and we develop youth lacrosse in the south Forsyth area. We have a lot of kids in the program who are well off and privileged [and] who don’t see that we have a lot of underprivileged children in our county, so we wanted to make sure as a community, we gave back to the community within the area.”
Fox added the organization is looking to make this an annual program for students, teachers and parents who want to volunteer in a way that will have a very real effect on many.
“We also took up a donation and we collected over $1,500 to present to Meals by Grace,” Fox said. “Forsyth County is one of the most affluent communities in the country, which you see when you go to some of the high schools. A lot of people don’t realize, though, that there are a lot of children and a lot of families within our own county that are not as well off as what [other] people are, so we thought it was a great way to have people really open their eyes and realize just outside of their own subdivision, it could be right down the street from where they are.”
Jones said the Sunday afternoon packing and delivery event is a way to reach families who have poor or no access to transportation to Meals by Grace’s Cumming facility.
“We’re packaging up frozen meats, we have a full set of pantry items such as canned goods and we mix that with fruit as well,” Jones said. “Providing a hearty meal to our families is key to our Sunday operation. We have about 40 people in the kitchen on Sundays cooking 63 families meals, or about 312 people, and all of that in about an hour and a half or two hours.”
In addition to the Sunday home delivery, which only Forsyth County families are eligible for, Meals by Grace also offers a client food pantry, where families in need can shop the pantry via a points system from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Meals by Grace volunteers also serve Dawson County families the second Saturday of the month at Hightower Academy in Dawsonville.
Jones said while every Sunday packing event is important, it’s especially necessary around the holidays, when children are out of school.
“The number one complaint we hear from children is they’re hungry,” Jones said. “They go home for fall break and they don’t have school lunches, they don’t have all the meals they have in school, so this provides us a great avenue for doing that.”
Jones said Meals by Grace also collects toys for children on Christmas.
“Some of those we’ll also put back for birthdays,” he said. “We have some great sponsors with Publix and we let them know we have birthdays and they make sure they find a birthday cake. All of our families with children will get a birthday cake, and that’s very special, from us to them.”
As a group of Lambert High School freshmen boys sat in the bed of a delivery truck parked behind the church, they laughed with each other, happy with that they’d accomplished.
“Sometimes it’s better to help [other] people than do something to help yourself,” said William Calhoun. “It makes you feel better and if there’s someone in need that you can help, that’s a smarter thing to do then just sit at your house and do something else. It’s really crazy how many people came together to help 63 families and brought so much stuff. Everyone worked together to complete one goal and it’s really impressive.”