MERCED -- The Merced County Rescue Mission is starting a food drive to feed impoverished local families on Thanksgiving Day and needs help.
Community members, groups, churches and agencies are encouraged to hold food drives or to donate individually. The mission hopes to collect 250 turkeys and recruit about 75 volunteers, said pastor Prapai Wanlarbkam. Also, the mission will be collecting donations of other food items needed for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, toys and clothes.
It hopes to feed about 3,000 families on Thanksgiving Day, he said. Toys and clothes will be given out that day as well.
"There's literally thousands of people, many children and seniors, who live in poverty in Merced County," said Phillip Schmauss, director of marketing for the mission. "We serve as a bridge between those in need and those who are willing to share. We are trying to see who's willing to share what they have."
Merced County's poverty rate in 2011 rose to 27.4 percent from 23 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, released in September. The city of Merced saw its poverty rate jump to 30 percent from 23.8 percent during the same year.
The Thanksgiving Day event will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 22 at the American Legion Hall, 939 W. Main St. It's open to the community, Prapai said. It's a group effort with the community that makes the event possible, he said, with the whole county involved.
"Every year the community comes together and we get everything we need. Every year we pull together," he said. "Everybody gets to be a part of it."
Schmauss noted the generosity of local individuals who come year after year to support the event.
Volunteers are needed to help set up, serve and clean up after the event, Prapai said.
People of all ages are welcome to help, but parents are encouraged to accompany young children. "A large part of our volunteers are families," Schmauss.
For groups that want to have their own food drives on behalf of the mission, mission staff will drop off a barrel and pick it up as well, Schmauss said. People can also drop off their donations at the mission.
Mission staff hope that this year the community will be as supportive as it has been in previous years, Prapai said. "We are looking for the community to kind of pull together for the needy families that are struggling," he said. "We know that right now there's more needy families. We are not trying to solve their problems, but this is one thing less they have to worry about."
Mission staff hope to have all the turkeys, potatoes, vegetables, stuffing, utensils, plates and plastic gloves, among other necessary items, by Nov. 19.
There's never too much, Prapai said. "All the leftover goes back to the mission to help feed the homeless," he said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or email@example.com.