A long line of cars, trucks and minivans stretched far back down Old St. Augustine Road on Monday morning before winding around the front lawn of the Mandarin Food Bank.
All brought families in need frozen turkeys with holiday food, fresh vegetables and much more during the year when the need grew.
An excited young voice came from a minivan that had been waiting in line for over an hour just after 9am. “Look,” said one boy, pointing out the window. “Mom, I see donuts over there!”
But it was more than donuts that brought one father and his family to the 33-year-old food bank.
“We’re coming here for Thanksgiving,” said the man who identified himself as Ghazi. “And we are very happy that the bank is helping people in need for the day.”
That’s why the Mandarin Food Bank has helped thousands of needy families with financial assistance, food donations, clothing and guidance to find housing or employment since its founding in 1990, said co-director Mary Kaminski. That includes holiday food baskets just before Thanksgiving and Christmas, mostly for regular customers of the facility at 11730 Old St. Augustine Road, each receiving a ticket to secure their basket.
“People are very generous,” Kaminski said, when a volunteer handed her someone’s used ticket saying, “Thank you. God Bless,” written on it.
“The need is there, and the volunteers are so generous,” Kaminski added. “And it’s actually nice to do something special and give people special things for Thanksgiving dinner.” It’s just nice and the volunteers love it.”
Each basket contains frozen turkey, produce, milk, juice, canned goods and a choice of apple or pumpkin pie. Families in need can request holiday baskets that feed two people or up to eight. The food bank also prepared sandwich packages for anyone walking or homeless because they can’t cook a meal, Kaminski said.
The food bank has experienced a growing need in recent years. Volunteers distributed 366 Thanksgiving baskets to needy families in 2009, and in 2016 the number reached about 550, officials said. Its volunteers saw 420 handed out in 2018, with the number increasing again to 440 in 2019 and then 423 a year ago, officials said.
As she watched the winding line of vehicles at 9 a.m. Monday, 40 minutes after volunteers began handing out food baskets, co-director Bonnie Arnold said it had been a “record year” for need. Kaminski added that they expect to give away every one of the 436 food baskets made this year.
“The need is greater and we’re seeing over 60 families a day, which is more than 50 a day,” Kaminski said. “It’s hard to predict, so we’re ready for over 400.”
The food bank, part of the Catholic Church of St. Joseph across the street receives donations from her and other churches as well as schools and nonprofit clubs that help fill the food bank’s shelves. That includes more than 900 frozen turkeys donated in the past week alone, a bonus that means they have enough for the annual Christmas food basket, Kaminski said.
As she sat in her car waiting her turn in line at 9:30 a.m., Mary Sue Ellen could see the food prepared by volunteers to help her and others.
“It’s just to find some food to feed my family,” she said. “I think they’re doing a good job helping the community, and I’m very grateful for that.”
The food bank has about 150 volunteers who work to sort and distribute food and other essentials during its opening hours, which are 9 to 11:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Volunteers from the Mandarin Rotary Club, the Knights of Columbus and area schools complete their holiday gifts.
Mandarin Food Bank’s Christmas distribution, usually with fewer families in need than Thanksgiving, begins at 9 a.m. on Dec. 20.
For information or donations, call (904) 292-1675 or visit facebook.com/MandarinFoodBank.
Other Thanksgiving Food Basket Gifts
Other food basket distributions are planned around town this week.
Some have already happened. Feeding Northeast Florida held its annual Turkey Time Friday at EveryBank Stadium. Clara White Mission hosted its annual Feed the City event Saturday for the homeless and low-income.
- The Salvation Army of Northeast Florida will distribute 800 Thanksgiving food baskets to families who have pre-applied for assistance from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday at its Towers Center of Hope at 900 W. Adams St.
- City Rescue Mission’s Thanksgiving Day Luncheon will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday at its New Life Inn, at 234 W. State St.
- First Baptist Church of Orange Park will sponsor its annual free meal for those in need from noon to 2:00 p.m. Thursday in the gymnasium at 1140 Kingsley Ave.