In the classic Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the main character George Bailey, through the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence, gets to see all the lives he’s touched for the better.
Saturday morning in Fort Wayne, dozens of volunteers at St. Mary’s Catholic Church got a similar look at those touched by their work during the 27th annual Christmas Food Box Program giveaway.
Michael Floyd, executive director of Windsong Pictures, Inc., a nonprofit that encourages student movie-making, coordinated the effort, which provided a frozen turkey or ham, five pounds of potatoes and a box containing canned vegetables and fruits and other staples to about 1,100 recipients.
Volunteers came from that program and six high schools in Fort Wayne – South Side, North Side, Snider, Wayne New Tech, Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger.
The students not only assisted recipients with getting their groceries to their vehicles but also packed food and solicited donations of goods and money for the last three months.
“We have 30 or 40 kids here today as volunteers,” said Zach Bennett, 18, student council president at Snider, where he is a senior. He also helped with the food drive last year.
“I really do like helping people. When you get to meet somebody, you get to experience a whole different side of the world you wouldn’t get to know. The people you get to meet are some of the nicest people,” he said.
One of them, Bennett said, told him what she was going to make with the food she received as he walked her to a nearby bus stop.
“I’m not supposed to do that,” Bennett confided of his service. “But it was too much for her to carry.”
Irene Higgins, 63, of Fort Wayne, who received a ham out of the back of a white panel truck, said she’s on disability and usually buys food.
“It’s tough, but I manage,” she said.
But Higgins said her son and daughter-in-law from South Bend and their two children will be coming to visit for Christmas, “and I need a little help” with bigger meals.
“The food is very good. Very good,” she said.
Thomas West, 51, said his ham will feed himself and the six children in his family, “as soon as I can cook it.” Most of the kids are in their teens, he said.
“Because of the way things are now, I’m not able to make enough,” the Fort Wayne man said, adding he works through a temporary day-labor agency.
Floyd, an English teacher at South Side who volunteers at Miss Virginia’s Mission House in Fort Wayne, said people sign up for the giveaway right after Thanksgiving and get a return postcard they use as a ticket to pick up food.
The program, Floyd said, was started by Fort Wayne Community Schools teacher and administrator Leon Youngpeter, who was struck that, although Fort Wayne had more than two dozen church food pantries, many closed between Christmas and New Year’s.
“He saw the need,” Floyd said. “The first year, we had 200 people. Now we’re up to 1,100.”
Volunteer David Roser, 40, of Fort Wayne, a Windsong participant, says he’s seen the need firsthand.
“I went through my hard times at one time. I understand what they’re going through,” he said, noting he lost his house through foreclosure in 2003.
Roser said he moved in with his parents and is now a student at the University of Saint Francis and helps with camera work and editing through Windsong.
“I was fortunate. I moved back home with my parents and got to go to school,” he added. “A lot of people don’t have that.”