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Saturday, May 08, 2021

Giving thanks and giving back: Locals come together for Thanksgiving

<p>The University Athletic Association works with Grace Marketplace and Catholic Charities to find the homeless and families in need. On Monday, UF athletes filled 1,200 Winn-Dixie bags with Thanksgiving food — enough to feed 600 local families.</p>

The University Athletic Association works with Grace Marketplace and Catholic Charities to find the homeless and families in need. On Monday, UF athletes filled 1,200 Winn-Dixie bags with Thanksgiving food — enough to feed 600 local families.

While many students, professors and residents go home to a turkey dinner next week, others won’t be as lucky.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, food banks, churches and even UF athletes have come together to donate food to families and help them celebrate the holiday.

At the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank on Wednesday, shopping carts full of green beans, sweet potatoes and pie crusts stretched from the weigh station around the corner and out the door.

Sandra Graham wore a pink shirt, and her chair swiveled back and forth as she filled out paperwork and helped customer after customer weigh their food.

For the past four years, she has worked as an agency specialist at the food bank, located at 325 NW 10th Ave., and she said it’s the best job she has ever had.

“Oh, I absolutely love it,” Graham said. “It’s wonderful being here.”

Five days a week, she is the first face to greet the shoppers from different agencies — registered organizations who buy food to give to the community. During the holidays, the food bank helps agencies orchestrate various food drives and events to help the hungry throughout Gainesville.

“You get to know them each like family,” she said. “Some come so much that I know who they are and start their papers before they even pick up a cart.”

She said during the holidays there is a spike in both donations and shoppers. On a normal week, the food bank usually sees about six donations. November through January, that number jumps to around a dozen.

“People know there’s a need so people feel like giving,” Graham said, swiveling again to file her fifth form in ten minutes.

• • •

Jane Dickerson has a bad wrist, but that doesn’t stop her from heaving a 20-pound box of Thanksgiving food onto the scale.

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She is the head of the food ministry and the pantry at her church, Landmark Holy Temple of God, located at 1220 NE 23rd Ave. When she thinks about the holiday season, she thinks about the less fortunate.

“My uncle started the church years ago,” she said. “I think about him and I think about my dad, and how when I was a little girl he always kept our door open for people in need. I’m trying to carry on the tradition.”

She comes to the food bank at least once a week throughout the year, but she said she expects to be there quite a bit this holiday season. She gets food when people tell the church they need it — no questions asked.

She said food is the best way to minister to people, no matter who they are.

“It is not my job or my duty to question people who say they are hungry,” she said. “All they have to do is call.”

Her pantry gives out baskets to families for Thanksgiving. On Wednesday, Dickerson said the pantry had given out 31 so far, and she expects to give around 50 by Thursday.

In the baskets, the church offers a feast: green beans, potatoes, corn, peaches, pears, macaroni and cheese, cornbread, dressing, gravy — and the all-important turkey.

“If they don’t like turkey, we’ll give them two chickens,” she said. “It’s a lot of food, but I wanted to give them Thanksgiving dinner and then some.”

• • •

On Monday, the University Athletic Association filled 1,200 Winn-Dixie bags full of Thanksgiving food — enough to feed 600 local families.

Denver Parler, the associate director of communication for men’s basketball, said the annual event has happened around Thanksgiving for about 10 years.

More than 50 athletes from nine different UF sports teams bagged the food for homeless families and those with children.

“For the homeless families, we focused on nonperishable items,” Parler said. “For the families in need but with a roof over their head, we were able to provide Thanksgiving items.”

The UAA works with Grace Marketplace and Catholic Charities to find the homeless and families in need. Monday the bags were filled and Pepsi helped transport the 1,200 bags to be distributed by the two organizations.

“It’s important for our athletic department — and especially for our student athletes — to be able to give back to the local community here,” he said. “Even more so during this time of year.”

• • •

Wednesday, 37-year-old Keith Thomas sat with his dog, Georgia, in downtown Gainesville. He held a sign that read “God bless, prayers help.”

He said he’s lived in Gainesville for 20 years and hopes to spend the holiday with his dog, his girlfriend and her family in Bell, Florida.

“I haven’t done too much for the holidays since my grandma died,” he said. “She’s the reason I came down here in the first place.”

The rest of his family lives up north, and he said he hopes to join them in January for New Year’s.

But he’s taking it one day at a time.

“I was in prison the last three years, and I recently lost my job, so my girl and I are on the street for now,” he said. “Hopefully in the new year I can go back up North and see my mom.”

The University Athletic Association works with Grace Marketplace and Catholic Charities to find the homeless and families in need. On Monday, UF athletes filled 1,200 Winn-Dixie bags with Thanksgiving food — enough to feed 600 local families.

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