Clay Builders Council, Food Pantry of Green Cove Springs and others provide 100 meals to needy families.
A red Chevy van rolled up to the curb outside St. Mary’s Church in Green Cove Springs as Santa Claus waved and shouted cheerfully in the drizzling rain, “Merry Christmas!”
“I need a box for number 42,” said Suman Tran, a Food Pantry of Green Cove Springs coordinator at a Dec. 15 event to help families with donated holiday dinners.
In response, two volunteers lifted a heavy box of food and carried it to the van as Santa passed out candy canes to children in the back seat.
For 29 years, the Clay Builders Council of the Northeast Florida Builders Association has partnered with the Food Pantry and other agencies to provide needy families with a traditional Christmas dinner. This year, they were joined by Clay Humane and Boy Scout Troop 424.
“It’s a blessing,” said one of the food basket recipients, Green Cove Springs resident Riley Ikner. “It means a lot to us. We don’t have the food we need.”
“May God bless all of you,” he said, waving out of the passenger window as the car drove off.
Earlier, in assembly-line style inside the church, a dozen volunteers packed 100 food boxes. It took them only 45 minutes to load the boxes with bread, vegetables, boxes and cans.
“We’ve been doing it for a while; we know what we’re doing,” quipped Northeast Florida Builders Association Executive Officer Bill Garrison.
The food baskets are given to families selected by the Food Pantry. Some of the baskets are designated for Clay Habitat for Humanity homeowners.
On Dec. 15, the families drove to the church on St. Johns Avenue. They received a big box of non-perishables, pet food and a $25 gift card to buy a turkey, ham or roast. Recipients who couldn't drive to the church had the food basket delivered to their home.
“We try to spread the love with it,” said Jessie Spradley, NEFBA government affairs director. “It’s a great project that I enjoy.”
The holiday tradition started nearly three decades ago when members of the Clay Builders Council built shelves and a reception area for the food pantry. Wanting to contribute more, they began giving away food baskets the next year.
But the council’s participation in the holiday basket giveaway may be coming to an end, Spradley said.
Council members, who are builders, remodelers and companies with an interest in the construction industry, are crunching numbers and considering other uses for the money dedicated to the holiday project, which amounts to roughly $6,000, Spradley said.
“This may be the last year,” Spradley said. “They are pushing us in that direction.”