United Way distributes meal kits to Berrien, Cass county families

DOWAGIAC — The ACTION Ministries building in Dowagiac was bustling Saturday afternoon as United Way of Southwest Michigan volunteers in colorful T-shirts roamed the halls, ensuring that many local families were able to host a full, traditional Thanksgiving for their families this week.

United Way of Southwest Michigan partnered with Meijer locations in Stevensville and Benton Harbor to host Operation Thanksgiving Saturday. For the event, Meijer donated food items, including turkeys, mashed potatoes, milk, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving meal staples for United Way to assemble into “Thanksgiving to go” kits, which were then distributed to low income families in the southwest Michigan area.

Dowagiac’s ACTION Ministries served as one location where 15 meal kits were distributed during Operation Thanksgiving to Cass County families. An additional 135 meal kits were distributed in Benton Harbor to Berrien County families. All families who received the Thanksgiving to go kits called United Way’s 2-1-1 line prior to the event to reserve a kit.

“Supporting the communities we serve, the importance of family, advocating for United Way and combating hunger are all very important to us all at Meijer, which made the decision to support Operation Thanksgiving incredibly easy,” said Rob Vassar, store manager at the Stevensville Meijer, in a statement released by United Way of Southwest Michigan. “Helping families enjoy a special meal together is a very simple way for us to give thanks to our customers and support our communities.”

Kristen Chism, a United Way staff member volunteering Saturday, said that United Way was thankful for Meijer’s donations, saying that the meal kits will help many local families host a Thanksgiving meal that they may not otherwise have been able to.

“There are a ton of families living just within their means or not having enough, so for a lot of families, a true Thanksgiving meal with a turkey and everything is just too much to afford,” Chism said. “This just allows a family to have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner without having to worry about how they are going to pay for it. Instead, they can pay for other things that they need.”

Despite the hustle and bustle of Saturday’s event, Chism said she believed the 2018 Operation Thanksgiving was successful, if for no other reason than for the excitement exhibited by the meal kit recipients.

“I think around this time of year, because it’s the holidays, having that little bit of extra to help make their celebrations special is appreciated,” Chism said. “It’s a good thing we are able to do.”

In Dowagiac, the recipients of the Thanksgiving to go kits said they were grateful for the help around the holidays and that the kits will allow them to host a Thanksgiving meal for their families that they can get excited about.

Chuckina Stevenson, 40, of Dowagiac, said she was very appreciative of the meal kit she received Saturday.

“This really means a lot,” she said. “I can have a family dinner without having to piece together stuff. It means a lot to have this free meal.”

Margie Feathers, 63, of Dowagiac, had a similar experience, saying that thanks to Operations Thanksgiving, she will be able to get her whole family together for the holidays.

“This helps a lot. I’m on a fixed income, and money goes too quick,” Feathers said. “This is very helpful. “

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