For a few hours last Thanksgiving, members of the Franklin Community High School baseball team brought containers of food to the elderly, needy and those who had no way to leave their homes.
The players spread out turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and other fixings for people who had no other holiday options. They asked each resident how they were doing, talked to them for a few minutes, and wished them a happy Thanksgiving before leaving.
The look on each residents’ face was heartwarming. But their excitement to talk with another person was the best part, the players said.
Franklin’s baseball team was among the volunteers who helped deliver meals to shut-ins as part of last year’s Johnson County Thanksgiving Banquet. Home-bound individuals, couples and families who had no one else to share Thanksgiving with were given a warm meal and a chance to visit with a local student.
The players also took away a greater appreciation for what they have.
“It was nice knowing you’re helping people out who can’t afford to go out and buy a turkey, to know that you’re helping people out,” said Ross Barr, a senior member of Franklin’s baseball team. “As a county, it’s really cool that we do something like this for other people.”
The team and hundreds of other volunteers will again help put on the banquet, which will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at Scott Hall on the Johnson County Fairgrounds.
The event provides a free meal to about 600 people, most of whom take the opportunity to eat together. Local performers provide entertainment, games and activities are organized for children, and the entire day is built around celebrating as one community.
But not everyone can leave their home. Some have no transportation, are too ill to leave or are caring for someone they can’t leave alone.
For those people, organizers provide delivered meals, said George Dodd, volunteer coordinator for the banquet.
Last year, banquet organizers delivered 186 meals throughout Thanksgiving Day. Those deliveries relied on a fleet of volunteer drivers.
“Everything we do is volunteer-based. All of the planning and all of the food preparation are done through community volunteers. We couldn’t do it without that,” Dodd said.
Banquet organizers are always looking for new groups to help in the chores and tasks required to ensure the event goes off flawlessly.
They approached Paul Strack, head baseball coach at Franklin, looking for high school students to volunteer and help with the work. The coach thought it was an excellent way for his players to reflect on the true meaning of Thanksgiving by serving others.
“It’s important for our guys to have that experience, realize how fortunate they are and that not everyone has access to the things that they have,” Strack said.
Early on Thanksgiving morning, the team, coaches and parent volunteers showed up at Scott Hall to start helping with the delivery effort. They were in charge of first filling the take-out containers with the meals that needed to be delivered. Residents had phoned in advance, and each box was labeled with an address.
Barr and other players loaded each container up with turkey, potatoes and other sides, and set the packages aside until it was time to deliver.
As he and his teammates worked through the list of deliveries, Barr remembers the pride that he felt.
“I think it looked good for the baseball team, recognizing that we’re helping people out. We’re trying to get ourselves recognized as a community,” he said.
Once all of the containers were filled with food, it was time to take each one to homes throughout the county.
The baseball team loaded five cars. Each car was given food and three addresses. When they arrived, the players took turns going to the door and handing out the food.
“We allowed the players to have that experience, hand-deliver the meals, ring the doorbell, introduce themselves, then give them the meal,” Strack said. “As the players got back into the car, we debriefed them, had a closing conversation with them. We felt that was really powerful.”
After such an enjoyable and worthwhile experience last year, Strack signed his team up to deliver meals again on Thanksgiving. Since baseball is a spring sport, few opportunities exist for the team to be out in the community during the fall. The banquet offers the chance to be more visible during the year, while teaching a valuable lesson about giving thanks, Strack said.
“Since it’s in the fall, it makes it really easy since our schedule gets so hectic in the spring,” Strack said. “We want to continue it. Ultimately, I think it’s important for our guys to have this experience.”