Program Feeds More Than 800
People generally associate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas with giving, not receiving. But in the spirit of the season, a local nonprofit organization provided hundreds of area residents with a little holiday cheer.
Misty Cokley counted among the hundreds who showed up to receive Thanksgiving baskets in Prince George's County last weekend. Cokley, like millions of Americans, has fallen on hard times, so she really appreciated the help.
"I think this means a lot," said Cokley, 31, who lives in Suitland, Md. "Especially for those who can't afford to go out and do the things they would like to this time of year. We should be appreciative of the giving because people could be selfish. They don't have to have these events. This really touches people's hearts."
More than 70 youngsters from Men Aiming Higher and Mentoring to Manhood volunteered to distribute Thanksgiving baskets chock-full of holiday treats on Saturday, Nov. 17. The young volunteers distributed the baskets to more than 800 residents in Upper Marlboro, Suitland and Hyattsville, Md. Men Aiming Higher, a nonprofit founded in 2009, that offers educational tutoring, leadership training, mentoring programs and community service outreach sponsored the four-hour event.
"It feels really good to be out here helping everyone today," said Caleb Pate, 18, who gladly gave up his Saturday to volunteer for a good cause. "It's special too, [because of the] time of year, to help out people who really need it," said Caleb who lives in Capitol Heights, Md.
Men Aiming Higher founder, Darryl Barnes, said he created the organization to "give back to the community, teach young boys how to become men, feed the hungry and clothe the naked." Barnes' brainchild has led to the creation of another program – Women Aiming Higher, which offers the exact opportunities to girls.
"It brings joy to your heart that you're able to help so many," said Barnes, 47, who lives in Upper Marlboro, Md. "But it saddens you, at the same time, to see that so many people are hurting. But it also brings me joy to see the number of volunteers who want to serve and give back to those who can't help themselves during these trying times."
Lines formed at Upper Marlboro's Mount Ephraim Baptist Church two hours before its doors opened as residents, bundled in scarves, hats and winter coats, waited patiently in the chilly 40-degree temperatures to pick up their baskets. By the time the church opened its doors, the line that had already formed snaked into the parking lot.
"People came early, very early. Approximately at 8 a.m.," said Upper Marlboro, Md. resident Perc'ie Rutherford, Men Aiming Higher's regional director for community outreach. "They didn't want to wait in line and wanted to be the first to be served their turkeys and also to eye and get first dibs on the clothes."
Once inside the church's gymnasium, residents teamed up with young volunteers. Volunteers escorted them to tables where bags of food were being distributed. Those who attended also had an opportunity to select clothing donated for the event. The young volunteers navigated throughout the busy gymnasium with brown paper bags filled to the brim with dry stuffing, canned cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving trimmings, in hand.
"I'm happy to see all of the young people active and making good use of their time," said 63-year-old Wanda Jones, who lives in Landover, Md. "It doesn't hurt to see the younger generation out here doing something constructive."
Jones retired from her job as a postal clerk with the U.S. Postal Service in 2008 and took advantage of the Thanksgiving basket, which she said will help her enjoy the holiday.
"It's a blessing. It helps with a lot of things due to my limited income that [I'm unable to do]," Jones said. "This allows me a little bit of leverage to do something. I feel good about that. Things are really tough."
In addition to the turkey and trimmings, residents also had their choice of fresh broccoli, large heads of cabbage and bread and cakes, compliments of Priority Partners, a health care organization that works with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"It was great partnering with Men Aiming Higher, we could clearly see that there was a need that was being met in the community today," said Pauletta Handy, a community health advocate with Priority Partners. "The people left today with produce, meat and everything to have a really healthy Thanksgiving meal."