Shoppers visiting the Elizabeth Walmart between late October and the first week of December are likely to have run into the crew of four veterans from the American Legion posted outside the store next to a folding table and a pile of flattened cardboard boxes.
Bundled in heavy coats, their hands thrust deep into their pockets or holding hot cups of coffee to ward off the cold, John Leybourne, Calvin Pagel, John Guttenberg, and Bo Anders have spent many of their Friday and Saturday afternoons this fall collecting food and cash for the American Legion Post 82's Annual Christmas Food Basket Drive.
“This is the 89year for the food drive,” says Calvin Pagel, Post 82's vice commander and food drive volunteer. “Next year will be a big year.”
“We started in 1925,” adds John Leyborne, Food Drive Director for 2014.
“And John's been here for every one of 'em,” Pagel quips, rocking back on his heels with a chuckle.
In addition to the typical nonperishable and shelf-stable items collected at most food drives, the men of Post 82 are also collecting all the fixings for a full Christmas dinner, including 10- to 12-pound frozen turkeys or hams. Classes at Singing Hills Elementary assisted in the effort by collecting 48 boxes of food.
Collections continued through Dec. 6 and then the volunteers went to work organizing and packing the cardboard boxes, donated by Home Depot, with the canned food, the stuffing mixes and cereals collected over the past two months.
In addition to the nonperishable items, cash donations allow for the purchase of fresh vegetables such as 5-pound bags of potatoes, carrots, onions, and celery.
“We'll pick those up on the 17th, the day boxes go out,” Pagel said.
Families, military, and wounded warriors throughout Elbert County signed up to receive the meals through the Elizabeth Fire Department, which will oversee the anonymous distribution of the food, with each family receiving four to five boxes plus everything needed for a holiday meal.
“Most of it stays here in Elbert County, about 99.9 percent of it does. Nothing is wasted. Any unclaimed food goes to the food bank,” Pagel said.
According to Leyborne, last year the American Legion Post 82 gave away more than 400 boxes of food to an estimated 90 families.
The American Legion is the nation's largest wartime veterans service organization. Chartered in 1919 as a veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness, the Legion sponsors programs advocating patriotism, national security and services to its members and veterans.
Membership in the American Legion is open to all current serving members of the U.S. Armed Forces as well as anyone who served on active military for at least one day during a period of hostilities.