DAVENPORT, Iowa — Volunteers at Davenport's Jefferson Elementary School handed out nearly 200 boxes of Thanksgiving groceries on Monday afternoon, as part of a two-decade-long tradition that organizers say is only growing.
The school said they had enough food this year to give a box to each staff member, along with every family that requested one. By the end of the day, the school estimated three-fourths of its roughly 500 students would be going home to a house that had received a box.
Cars began lining up shortly after lunch on Monday, as volunteers began loading boxes into the waiting vehicles. Each container was loaded up with bread, buns, baking trays, cornbread mix, boxed cakes, vegetables and more. In addition, each family received potatoes and a turkey.
All the food came from cash and item donations, with special help from the "KIDS EAT FREE" program, Hy-Vee, the River Bend Food Bank and various other business partners.
Jefferson began giving its families holiday meal kits nearly 20 years ago. Back then, Chris Miller remembers giving boxes to 15 families.
"It grew to 25 then to 50 then to 100 and now we're past that," he said. Miller, an instructional mentor and 'teacher coach' at Jefferson, said every year is just about trying to help, "We're trying to give people a boost, make their Thanksgiving a little easier. If we can do that, it's the least we can do."
Every year, Miller is joined by his wife, Heather, a social worker at Jefferson. They say building a 'positive tradition' creates security for the students and families they work with.
"They depend on it and they know they can count on us every year to help them out. And we're happy to do that," he said. "This is something that's a tradition here and I think it's a positive legacy."
On Monday, mother Dominique Benford dropped by to pick up her own basket, after trying it out for the first time in 2020.
"Everything we got last year really helped a lot. I was really surprised how much stuff was in there. I've never had that much be given to me like that," said Benford. "Whoever gives to this, just thank you, because I know my family appreciates it."
All afternoon long, the Millers and the rest of the program's volunteers stacked up boxes of groceries. Often, asking families if they'd like an extra bag of potatoes or a second turkey to take home.
And the containers themselves came from Jefferson as well. Students spend Monday morning packing up each box, ready for when the line of cars began to form.
"Sometimes it makes a bigger difference than we know," said Kamie Montoya, Jefferson's Principal.
Montoya said over the past two years, herself and staff noticed pantry shelves more barren and more families in need, which drove their goal to provide even more food.
"Kids will come back and say, 'I ate during the whole break this time and I didn't think I would,'" said Montoya. "We'll get these random letters that just come in the mail two weeks, three weeks, a month later, (saying) 'Thank you, we were able to have our family over and host them for the first time in our lives.' It's those things that are just so amazing and make this all worth it."
Jefferson also provides Christmas baskets for students to take home over the long winter break, when some might not have reliable meals.