MONROE — For over 70 years, the Monroe Woman’s Club Christmas Stocking Project has provided members of the community with a Christmas meal for the holidays.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jennifer Spielman wondered whether the club would be able to give food at all.
“We did not see how it could happen for the food. We knew we could get them the coupon towards the meat of their choice in the mail, but we did not feel that we could safely have volunteers come into Dearth,” Spielman, the project’s food box coordinator, said. “We were really scratching our head on what could we do, how could we help maintain the tradition in some fashion?”
Thankfully, the community stepped in and the club’s tradition will be kept alive another year.
Unlike most years, where the holiday meal boxes are packed and delivered by hundreds of volunteers, the operations will take place at the Maple Leaf Cheese Building No. 5 location in Monroe. Shirley Knox of Maple Leaf Cheese recognized the risk of packing the boxes in the traditional fashion and suggested instead that the workers at the facility package the meal boxes in a regulated, safe environment.
“I’m really, really proud that we’re able to step in and help,” Knox said.
The packaging will be done entirely by professionals who practice regulated food packaging daily. Instead of handing out overflowing boxes with an open top, each box will be completely shut and will be placed in the trunk of recipients at west-side Monroe facility.
Even though the boxes will look a little different this year, they will contain the same basic ingredients: instant mashed potatoes, carrots, peaches, corn, green beans, Jello, bread, eggs and cheese.
Community businesses including Grande Cheese Company, Maple Leaf Cheese and the Swiss Colony all donated supplies for the boxes.
The employees, who work together daily, will be wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Because the group works together under COVID-19 protocols on a daily basis, allowing the Maple Leaf employees to package the boxes instead of volunteers reduces the number of outside people coming in.
The building’s two-entrance parking lot will be converted into a drive-thru location with one entrance and one exit, allowing for a smooth flow of traffic as boxes are delivered to cars.
Recipients will drive up and hand in a card stating their name and how many boxes they will be taking home. The food will then be brought to their car and placed directly in the trunk to avoid unnecessary interaction.
“There’s so many people that want to help but this year we have to limit it,” Knox said.
In any given year, the Woman’s Club Christmas Stocking Project is made possible through the work of hundreds of volunteers throughout the community.
Many aspects of the project typically involve face-to-face interaction and in-person collaborating, something that made incorporating additional volunteers a challenge this year.
The pool of volunteers that make the event possible each year is not small, and neither is the impact they have on the community.
In 2019 alone, 250 shoppers purchased gifts for families, and over 60 businesses, organizations and schools were involved in collecting toys for the project. Other volunteers typically include those who supply homemade baked goods as well.
In all last year, 510 food boxes were prepared for 329 families and 35 seniors, as well as 261 cheer boxes and 190 care packages to nursing homes, care facilities, memory care homes and shut-ins.
This year’s numbers have not been finalized, but Spielman said that they are expecting to deliver around 480 boxes.
Though the project’s volunteers weren’t able to participate in the traditional fashion this year, Spielman is hopeful that 2021’s Christmas Stocking Project will be able to more closely resemble those of years past.
“We look forward to next year hopefully being able to have the physical volunteers also as part of coming together as a community to help our own, to help the children and families of the Monroe school district,” Spielman said.