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‘I’m Just Really Thankful’: Gainesville Nonprofit Giving Hundreds Thanksgiving Meals

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After James Bankhead lost his job and his fiancé, Heather Outler, found out she was pregnant, they were concerned they would not be able to afford a real Thanksgiving meal.

But thanks to donations by a Gainesville nonprofit, the couple will be able to celebrate the holiday Thursday with a full meal.

“My friend told me we could come here [to Catholic Charities Gainesville] and get food, and I’m just really thankful because we’re still going to be together for the holidays and have a good time,” Outler said Tuesday as she and Bankhead picked up food items from the organization’s building on Northeast Ninth Street.

“It’s nice to know there’s some people out there who are still out there to help everyone else,” Bankhead added.

Catholic Charities Gainesville has been giving out food for Thanksgiving since 1975.

The nonprofit relies heavily on donations from private donors, various churches and University of Florida organizations, including the University Athletic Association and Catholic Gators, according to Jackie Oliver, emergency services coordinator for Catholic Charities Gainesville.

“Anything that we would eat for Thanksgiving, we try to put in” the bag that’s given person or family, Oliver said.

The bags — which include turkeys — are given out on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during the week of Thanksgiving. The organization portions out the turkeys so an equal amount of them are distributed each day, but once they run out, people are given $10 gift cards so they can purchase their own or ham.

Also included in the bags are the trimmings for the rest of the meal: vegetables, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, dessert and sodas.

“Pretty much what they leave with, they can go home and cook Thanksgiving,” Oliver said.

The bags are reserved for their “regulars,” or people who have been to the organization’s pantry within the last year and are cataloged in its computer system. This is to prevent people from getting food after hearing a friend or relative got a free turkey, Oliver said.

But no one leaves empty handed.

“If someone new does come in, we would never turn them away of food, ever,” she said. “So we are still giving them food; it is just not the turkey and the stuffing. We would give them our regular pantry food.”

In 2015, the nonprofit gave food to about 364 people for Thanksgiving, and it had already exceeded that number as of Tuesday morning. And by the time all donations are distributed, Oliver expects more than 400 families will have received food.

For Oliver, there is “nothing better than to know that somebody’s leaving here that can’t afford Thanksgiving and that Catholic Charities can feed them.”

Abilandra Robertson, a senior at Gainesville High School who was there helping hand out food Tuesday, said she began volunteering with the Catholic Charities Gainesville three years ago for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“It makes me happy when I see kids come up and their eyes kind of light up,” she said, “and they’re like, ‘Oh great, we’re going to have a lot of food this Thanksgiving.’ And that’s really nice.”

About Lauren Rowland

Lauren is a reporter for WUFT News. She can be reached at news@wuft.org or 352-392-6397.

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