Salvation Army preparing for large crowd at annual Thanksgiving meal in Cape Girardeau

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau expects a much larger than normal demand for its annual Thanksgiving dinner, Maj. Ben Stillwell said Tuesday.

With preparations underway at the headquarters at 701 Good Hope St., Stillwell said he expects both home deliveries and the number of visitors who will partake on-site will be significantly higher this year.

The economic downturn -- Stillwell said that by his count more than 270 jobs have been lost in the area in recent months -- will likely mean larger numbers of people will be on hand for the annual Thanksgiving meal from noon to 2 p.m. "All our indicators suggest we may see more people than we ever have before," he said. "This is one time I wish I was wrong."

The Salvation Army has increased the number of turkeys it plans to prepare from 60 to 90, and regular donors such as Schnucks, Hutson's Fine Furniture and River Radio have increased their gifts to cover the increased demand, he said. "We have been wonderfully donated. We believe we are right at the point now where we have enough."

With almost 200 people signed up for home-delivered meals Thursday and many more requests expected by the end of the day today, Stillwell is also seeking extra volunteers to deliver the meals in Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

With no Meals on Wheels delivery on the holiday, the Salvation Army takes up the slack and puts providing meals to people who are homebound for whatever reason a priority for the day.

Last year, the Salvation Army delivered 400 Thanksgiving Day meals and fed more than 500 people in the dining room. Delivery requests received by 4 p.m. today are guaranteed to be delivered and requests made Thursday morning will be filled if food and drivers are available, Stillwell said.

"We are probably in good shape for people on site," Stillwell said of the anticipated volunteer staffing. "Sometimes we have more people show up than we ever could use. But the area that makes us a little bit concerned is individuals willing to deliver. That we may be short on."

The expected increase in holiday meals is just a symptom of the increasing demand for food being faced across the region, said Karen Green, director of the Southeast Missouri Food Bank. The food bank provides support to 145 agencies in 16 counties as part of its hunger relief network.

Through the summer, Green said, demand for food pantry services was generally flat. But this fall, she said demand has increased about 30 percent, reflecting the impact national economic trends are having locally.

"The increase in demand is from the working poor," Green said. "We think there are a lot of people out there who have recently lost their jobs or their job isn't sufficient to meet the need anymore."

Food bank partners are stepping up to help in many instances, she said. Burch Food Services in Sikeston, Tyson Foods in Dexter, Mo., and Procter & Gamble in Cape Girardeau County have all sustained or increased donations, she said, and Sam's Club and Wal-Mart are aiding food banks nationally by freezing meat and baked goods when it can no longer be sold to preserve them for the food banks.

At the Salvation Army, the annual coat giveaway will also take place Thursday during the serving hours for the Thanksgiving meal and the Salvation Army has almost 3,000 coats and about 1,000 other items of warm clothing ready, Stillwell said.

There is no requirement to partake in the meal other than being hungry, he said, and the coats will be given away on a first-come, first-served basis as well.

The kettle drive is also underway. The kettles were put in place before Thanksgiving this year because timing of the holiday cut five days off the post-Thanksgiving shopping period, Stillwell said. So far, the campaign has raised $57,198 of its $269,3000 goal, Stillwell said.

To volunteer as a driver or make any kind of donation, contact the Salvation Army at 335-7000. People wanting meal delivery on Thursday should also call that number for assistance, Stillwell said.

rkeller@semissourian.com

388-3642

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