By Callie Sharkey
The holiday season is stressful and busy for many people, but for those who struggle with additional challenges, the season becomes a time of worry more than a peaceful time with loved ones.
To lend a hand to its residents, the Village of Wellington organizes its annual Hometown Holiday Food Drive during the fall months, and on Saturday, Nov. 17, the village distributed thousands of pounds of food to those who need it most.
Residents pre-registered to receive one of 250 bags of food, plus a turkey. A large number of these residents were waiting outside the Wellington Community Center before 9 a.m. on the day of the distribution.
A team of five staff members and 35 volunteers worked with smiling faces and full hearts as they passed out food bags filled with all the fixings needed to have a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner.
Many workers were a part of this event for the first time, like Wellington Community Services staff member Helen Archer. “This is amazing, giving back to the community,” she said.
Christie Greenspan and her son Parker are first time volunteers, too. “We found out through an e-mail from the Village of Wellington and thought it would be a great way to give back,” Greenspan said.
Over the past nine years, the food drive has become larger and more organized. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Scott Portiz has been a part of the event since its inception.
“It was part of the Safe Neighborhoods initiative started by the Village of Wellington,” Portiz said. “We started with about 50 turkeys that first year.”
As more organizations became involved, the drive continued to grow in size, and its ability to reach more citizens expanded. The event now combines local efforts of churches, temples and other community organizations, pooling resources for easier access and streamlined distribution.
Partners in the program include Wellington’s Interfaith Council, the Christopher Aguirre Memorial Foundation, the Mall at Wellington Green, Florida Crystals, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, Wellington Regional Medical Center, the Solid Waste Authority, RC Hatton Farms, along with several churches and schools in the area.
Beyond just time and a few cans of food, local businesses embrace this opportunity to give back. RC Hatton Farms donated more than 500 pounds of sweet corn, and Don Chepo’s Taco Shop helped buy hundreds of turkeys. There was so much food donated to the program that Poritz had already driven a packed van full of food to the food pantry at CROS Ministries the day before the official distribution.
“This and the upcoming toy drive are something I look forward to each year. We get to interact with the community and do something for those who are grateful and gracious,” Portiz said. “Just a look of appreciation goes a long way. It reenergizes us. This is why we do what we do for the community.”
The event coordinator, Morgan Cintron, put together a broad spectrum of volunteers for the drive.
“We are trying to grow the volunteer program, so we reached out to local high schools, community organizations and churches,” Cintron said. “We try to host one big event a month. Our next big event is the toy drive.”
One of those churches was St. Peter’s United Methodist Church, whose members baked more than 250 loaves of pumpkin bread from scratch using pumpkins left over from church’s pumpkin patch in October.