The Pickerington Food Pantry is seeking donations of items to be distributed to people in need this holiday season and requesting volunteers who will help put together holiday food baskets and distribute them to pantry clients.

Over the past month, the Pickerington Food Pantry has collected a specific list of items and monetary donations that will enable pantry volunteers to put together Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner baskets for those in need.

Now, pantry officials are looking for those who can help so dinner baskets can be assembled and distributed at the pantry Nov. 18 and Dec. 16.

"The holiday baskets are trying to ensure that all of the families that are in need of assistance also have a holiday meal because families don't come to us on a weekly basis," said Vanessa Niekamp, executive director of the Pickerington Food Pantry.

The pantry is seeking volunteers Nov. 18 to help put together the Thanksgiving dinner baskets and also to hand them out to clients that will visit the pantry at 70 Cross St., Suite B, in Pickerington that day.

The pantry also will be accepting donations through Dec. 1 to complete Christmas dinner baskets that will be distributed Dec. 16.

Pantry officials said they are hopeful people will donate a complete selection of items for Christmas baskets.

To fill a basket, they ask donors provide:

* Turkey (12 to 16 pounds).

* Potatoes (5-pound bag).

* Stuffing mix (one bag or two boxes).

* Gravy (two mix packs or two jars/cans).

* Cranberries (two cans).

* Vegetables (four cans).

* Pie (one that does not require refrigeration).

Niekamp said people also can help contribute to the holiday basket program by donating $30.

"We're also offering this year something new where we said that if people want to help and make a difference for these families but don't want to collect items and put a box together yourself, that you can donate $30 and we can do it," she said.

"We can do it for $30 because we're purchasing the items through Mid-Ohio Foodbank.

"We can purchase these items at a much discounted rate. We've asked people to either contribute ready-made baskets with these items or donate the $30 towards a basket."

Those who want to volunteer to assemble baskets and distribute them to clients are asked to contact the pantry at volunteer@pickeringtonfoodpantry.org.

"We schedule volunteers in hour increments," Niekamp said. "On those two days, we'll be receiving in the baskets that people have put together in the morning between 9 and noon.

"Then our clients will start coming and we'll distribute them out to clients from 1 to 5 p.m. We will have volunteers that will put everything in their car because if we can keep them from having to get out of their cars, we can keep the line moving."

The pantry assists clients who as individuals or households have incomes at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines and who live within the Pickerington Local School District boundaries.

According to the pantry, it serves more than 600 people each month.

"In Pickerington, one in four of our kids are receiving free and reduced (price) lunch (in school)," Niekamp said. "Those same children have a family that has the same needs of the food pantry."

Niekamp added that 37 percent of the people the pantry serves are senior citizens, and 11 percent are military veterans.

In addition, the food pantry over the last four years has seen a gradual, steady increase in the number of seniors that need food assistance.

"We're providing enough food for three meals a day, in the household, for up to eight to 10 days a month," she said. "We're emergency food assistance.

"We're providing food once a month."

The holiday basket initiative comes as the pantry solicits monetary donations for its annual Festival of Lights project where holiday lights are hung outside the pantry. Each light bulb represents a single $5 gift.

The lights will be unveiled Dec. 7.

Additional information about the Festival of Lights is available at www.pickeringtonfoodpantry.org, and donors can make contributions through the website or by visiting the pantry.

"Those donations go to purchase things like milk and eggs that we don't normally get donated to us and that we also can't buy through Mid-Ohio," Niekamp said.

"One of my goals in the first three years that I'm here is to try to increase our funding by at least 10 percent.

"If I can get to that, we should be able to increase that (monthly food supply to clients) to 14 days."

Desiree Youngblood, vice president of the Pickerington Food Pantry board of directors, said the help local people provide through food and financial donations, as well as volunteering on Nov. 18 and Dec. 16, is essential to the food pantry helping people in need in their community.

She said it also is beneficial to those who help.

"One of the reasons I always encourage people to volunteer is that it's giving back to the community," Youngblood said. "But when you volunteer and you give to others, you actually receive more in return.

"Even though that's not your intention, you always get a bigger blessing helping others."

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate