11/17/13 — Food donations surpass expectations

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Food donations surpass expectations

By Steve Herring
Published in News on November 17, 2013 1:50 AM

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Alexis Martinez and her brother Rico drop off frozen turkeys as part of a Thanksgiving food drive to benefit needy families at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

On Monday, Wayne County residents waved flags and cheered veterans and the military in the Veterans Day Parade. By Friday, they had raised nearly $7,000 and donated enough food to surpass the goal of a Thanksgiving food drive to help needy families currently serving on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Allan Pedersen, base liaison coordinator for the USO of North Carolina, said that once word began to spread about the food drive Monday morning, the phone began ringing and never stopped.

"I thought, 'OK, we will get the 40 turkeys,'" he said. "Then all of a sudden, one gentleman called and he wanted to buy 100 cans of corn. I said, 'Whew.' The cash standpoint, I thought we would get some. But I wasn't looking for anything like this. People were calling saying, 'What can I do?'

"It is overwhelming to see the support, and we are very thankful. It comes from all parts of the county. I think a lot of them are older folks. I think that if you say there is a need, put the cards on the table and say, 'This is where we are,' they will come to the need. The thing I found through this, and some other stuff, if we let the community know that you have a worthwhile program, they will support you."

In fact, he said, the project was so successful that it actually has provided a jump-start on the USO's Christmas efforts as well.

The base's first sergeants conducted Team Seymour Operation Warm Heart, and worked with the base squadrons to collect food for needy families on the base.

"The citizens of Wayne County have contributed 74 turkeys," Pedersen said. "We probably have about 450 cans of corn and probably 300 boxes of mashed potatoes. In addition, we have miscellaneous items. I know that I saw boxes of rice in there and various other items that a regular cook would want to use Thanksgiving Day -- chicken broth, beef stock -- that wasn't on the wish list that they had."

Butterball also donated 230 turkeys.

Essentially everything that the organizers needed to make up the Thanksgiving baskets, the people of Wayne County have been able to provide, Pedersen said.

"When we met with (base personnel) at noon today (Friday) and gave them this report, they really couldn't believe it."

The food boxes will be packed Monday and distributed on Friday.

"In addition, the citizens of Wayne County have been very gracious and have given us about $6,600 in checks for this program to help out with anything they need for Operation Warm Heart," Pedersen said.

The checks range from $10 to $2,000, and Pedersen said he knows that more are coming. He said he would not be surprised to see the total surpass $7,000.

"What is going to happen, this money goes into Operation Warm Heart, which is a program the military has to help take care of their own," Pedersen said. "These funds that are left from this are going to be used to help them with their program at Christmastime for those who need help.

"They probably will be providing cards for them to go to the commissary to get food. They will have some toys and things like this that have been donated, or are in the process of being donated to them. As far as any dry goods left over, they do maintain a food pantry on base for those in need. So this food will be kept there."

Pedersen said a number of people have asked if the food and money would stay in Wayne County with Seymour Johnson personnel.

Pedersen said he has assured callers it would.

"We have, through this program, been able to come up and support all of their needs," Pedersen said. "As far as the frozen foods, we are about right on right now. People are still calling. I said the best thing they can do right now is to send us a check to Operation Warm Heart."

Checks should be made payable to Team Seymour Operation Warm Heart. They should be mailed to Allan D. Pedersen, Base Liaison Coordinator, USO of North Carolina, Seymour Johnson AFB, Building 3602, Room 117.