By Brandon Martin
With all the changes this year, one thing stayed the same — the Harvest Youth Board provided its annual Thanksgiving Eve dinner, albeit with a few changes.
The 5th annual W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve Dinner was held Wednesday. The drive-thru meal box distribution event fed 1,200 families, organizers said.
William Gardner, chairman of the board, said the dinner had been held at Martinsville High School since 2016.
“Last year, we served around 3,000 people through in-house and deliveries. We usually got upward of around 300 volunteers,” Gardner said, adding this was the first year of the drive-thru.
Anne Catherine Harris, chairman of the special events committee, oversaw operations of this year’s event. With the onset of the coronavirus, she said planning required a little more creativity.
“Since we’ve been doing the Thanksgiving Eve Dinner at Martinsville High School for a couple of years, we had a plan where we knew how we’d usually do it there with the assembly line and everything,” Harris said. This year “we knew we’d want to be as safe as possible and take precaution.”
After some discussion, members of the board decided to provide the drive-thru meal boxes, each of which was designed to feed a family of four. Boxes contain a meat, side items and a dessert.
Harris said the youth board partnered with the Henry County Food Pantry to buy the food items from Sam’s Club in Greensboro, N.C.
Harris said members of the Harvest Foundation and the Harvest Youth Board alternated shifts to pack the boxes that were distributed at the Henry County Food Pantry in Bassett.
“I honestly think it’s inspiring, especially during this year,” Harris said. “It’s been hard, and people are struggling so being able to get our community to come together and provide meals for families is really important. We want to show that we care and make sure there is always something positive going on in our community.”
“My favorite part about being part of this is that I feel like I’m making an impact in my community,” said Corey Brandon, chairman of the communications committee.
In addition, the youth board includes a grants committee.
“All of the committees have their own jobs. They all have their own part to play in making sure that everything runs smoothly,” Brandon said. “Everyone has their own responsibility.”
The annual dinner is “something that I hold close because I really like being able to make a change and I think with the Thanksgiving Eve dinner, we are really making a difference,” he said.
In past years, “you were able to see exactly how many people were getting the Thanksgiving dinner that they might not have been provided if it weren’t through our dinners,” Brandon said.
He added valuable lessons were learned this year due to the change in format.
“No matter what conditions you are under, if you stay true to what you are doing and know what your end goal is, nothing is impossible,” Brandon said. “When we were starting this discussion, I was thinking ‘we just aren’t going to have a Thanksgiving Eve dinner,’ but there are so many innovative minds on the youth board that we were able to make this possible under what seemed like impossible conditions.”
“This year we really had to think outside of the box and put a lot of different options on the table,” Harris said. “I think being able to work together with everybody and weighing our options to see that this meal box distribution could happen was really awesome. Being able to still do it because we worked together was really inspiring.”
Gardner said the dinner has become one of his favorite events each year. “Then there came this year where we knew, obviously, that we were going to have to do something different. The last thing that we wanted to do was cancel the dinner.”
Given the impact of the pandemic, Gardner gained a newfound appreciation for the board’s philanthropy.
“We were able to see there is more of a need this year than there was any other year, and I’m glad that we can help during this time,” he said. “However challenging COVID-19 may be, I think a lot of us have found more efficient ways of doing things. There are a lot of things that we’ve learned we can do, and we can stick to those processes to make a more efficient operation in the future.”
Gardner said significant planning is needed to provide the dinner.
“When we finish the year’s Thanksgiving dinner event, we immediately start on the next one,” Gardner said. “We work on the dinner for the whole entire year. The youth board prides itself on being a completely student-run board. That means we set our own budgets and we set our own bylaws but when we make our annual budget, we always set one section away for the Thanksgiving dinner.”
India Brown, advisor to the youth board, said its members also have been busy working with city and county schools to provide additional boxes for youngsters.
Harris said 10 boxes per school were provided for each school in the City of Martinsville and Henry County.
Brown said the schools helped identify the families with the most need and distributed them appropriately.