Team Feed Flagler hosted a free Thanksgiving meal for all residents, Wednesday Nov. 23, at 11 locations throughout Flagler.
For many, Thanksgiving means two things: turkey and football. But who needs the latter? If you’ve been tracking the Team Feed Flagler race for food and cash collections, chances are you’ve gotten more than your fill of drama and competition to last until the new year.
Kicked off in September, this year’s Team Feed Flagler drive touted high aspirations. Having served dinner to 2,500 residents last year at its free Community Thanksgiving Celebration, Commissioner Milissa Holland, who heads the event, announced that in 2011, she hoped to feed 4,000.
The number of dinner locations was bumped up to 11. And instead of sending 400 families home with a week’s worth of groceries, she aimed at stocking the cupboards of 1,000 — in addition to filling local food pantries through the holidays.
The results: With the help of countless volunteers, Team Feed Flagler collected more than 60,000 pounds of food for this year’s event, doubling last year’s count of 30,000. Up from 400, it packaged about 800 boxes of groceries. And it matched last year’s cash collection of $16,000.
“It turned out to be so much larger this year,” Holland said. “Each team that participated last year doubled, if not tripled, what they brought in.”
Each team, either competing for most food or cash collected, jockeyed to claim the Feed Flagler moving trophy. Last year, Sanda Mullen’s Chicks with Cans team collected the most food, with 4,000 pounds, and Flagler County Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston won cash collections, with about $3,500.
“It’s been cut-throat,” Holland said of the cash competition between Johnston and her greatest rival, Sheriff Donald Fleming, the day before final collections Nov. 21. The race was neck-and-neck. Not once in the last few months, Holland added, has she gone into either Johnston’s or Fleming’s office without hearing an earful of smack.
“It’s been really funny,” she said.
With hours to go until collections closed, Johnston was still rallying for donations.
“We’re at double what we had (last year),” she said. “The goal going in was $5,000. Then we moved it to $6,000. Then, $7,000.”
She said about 90% of the money her department has raised came from sub-$5 donations. Those contributors were allowed to put their names on the wall in her office at the Government Services Building. Those who gave $10 or more got a special spot, though, on the “Turkey Wall of Fame,” a board that faces into the GSB lobby, where Johnston displayed blown-up businesses cards of all contributors.
Her largest contributor was Palm Coast Ford, which donated $200. The wall of fame, Johnston said, was filled to capacity.
“Even if you put in a dollar, two dollars, you feel at least you’re helping your friends,” she added. “These are peoples’ neighbors.”
Fleming and his team, meanwhile, raised most of their money through narcotics confiscations.
Hours before results were announced, the two got in their final words.
“As long as the sheriff doesn’t take our money when we go to turn it in, we’ll be fine,” Johnston said.
“I just keep quiet and win,” Fleming countered.
(As of press time Wednesday morning, the final tally was still not available. Check www.PalmCoastObserver.com for the update, as well as photos from the Thanksgiving dinner.)
To Fleming, the real winners were those who got to sit down with family and friends and their entire community, and eat. That’s something they can really be thankful for, he said.
In preparation of the Community Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 23, volunteers cooked and prepared food 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 22, at Buddy Taylor Middle School.
Also, chefs from the Hammock Dunes Club were joined by students from Matanzas High School Nov. 22 and Nov. 23. They made 860 pounds of turkey, 545 pounds of ham and 300 pounds of each of green beans, corn, mashed potatoes and stuffing.
“I think it’s good to help the community,” said Matanzas culinary student Heather Hubert. “Times are hard right now, and everyone has the opportunity to help someone.”
Flagler Volunteer Services coordinated workers to organize and package food, set up dining rooms, serve, clean and more.
Entertainment was organized at all locations. Free flu shots were scheduled.
Boy Scouts and Community Problem Solvers groups set up “Giggle Tables,” where kids could make crafts and get their faces painted during dinner. Elementary schoolers designed placemats. Children at churches made centerpieces.
“It’s not an easy feat to put this together,” Holland said. But it’s worth it, and people everywhere step up to lend a hand.
“This event certainly brings out the community,” she said. “But it also brings out the spirit of our residents. Hunger is something we need to be aware of all year long. And so the giving has continued.”
— Shanna Fortier contributed to this story.