by Larry Austin
The Grand Island Neighbors Foundation and volunteers brought pallets of donated food to the Knights of Columbus hall on Whitehaven Road Tuesday for unboxing, sorting and distribution to needy Island families at Christmas.
The Neighbors Foundation's Denny Dahl said at least 12 pallets with food collected at schools will support 65 families this Christmas.
Though the number of families in need has increased, so has the amount of donated food and the number of volunteers willing to distribute it. In addition to members of the Neighbors Foundation, volunteers Tuesday included members of the Grand Island High School DECA and Student Council, and the Knights of Columbus.
Cheryl Chamberlain, Grand Island High School business teacher and DECA adviser, said choosing volunteers to assist in the endeavor is "kind of a nice way to reward kids who work really, really, hard."
Some people would hardly consider the task of sorting hundreds of pounds of food a "reward."
"Not these guys," she said.
"This is part of the DECA diamond, which is to give back to the community, but it's also a day where kids can think about others and not just worry about academics so much, but worry about what's going on in the world around them."
"I think once they get here, that's when it becomes real to them," Student Council adviser Christina Podlucky said of the students. "They realize where it's going. Sometimes I think they're blown away by the number of families on the Island that really need help. I think sometimes they forget, that even on Grand Island there are families in need of food, money, or just something special for their holiday season."
Toys, gifts, and food were delivered Tuesday, including $5,000 in Tops gift cards, Dahl said. Mark Raepple of John's Pizza & Subs donates $1,000 of pizza certificates, and every year, Islander Rick Karnath has donated thousands of packages of cookies.
Peter Kuszczak of the Knights of Columbus noted that the K of C members have donated use of their hall for sorting of food for the ninth year in a row. Pallets of food were dropped off on Monday and stored overnight until a small army of volunteers sorted the donations into individual packages for delivery to Island families.
DECA President Sarah Chamberlain has participated in the sorting all four years of high school.
"Every year I love seeing how much food comes," she said. "It's saddening because there are so many extra families each year, but at the same time more food comes every year, so more families get more and more food. It's really great."
"Without the kids helping Grand Island families, this couldn't have been done," Dahl said. The process used to take six to eight people all day, he noted.
The Neighbors Foundation is there to help Islanders all year round.