By Miranda Wilder

Former news Editor

Monday of Thanksgiving week: The November holiday three days away and travel plans underway for many, yet the Waysmeet Center remained bustling and chaotic with slightly different priorities as dozens of volunteers organized over 3-and-a-half tons of donated food for Thanksgiving baskets.

At 8:45 a.m. director of Waysmeet Larry Brickner-Wood and I hopped in his car to make an hour-long trek to Manchester. Where were we headed? To pick up 200 frozen turkeys from New Hampshire’s only food bank.

“We’re doing our little piece to put a dent in that 40 percent of food wasted (in America),” he said. “Boy, it’s hard.”

“If we had food pantries working together better, we could get more done. It’s New Hampshire. It’s live free or die. People are independent.”

That is not to say Brickner-Wood and the rest of Waysmeet interns and volunteers are not doing their part.

These food baskets are meant to provide for families who cannot afford to sustain themselves, particularly around the holiday season.

“A lot of community has gone into making this happen,” food pantry coordinator Erin Fitzpatrick said.

Waysmeet has graduated from putting together 15 baskets when the idea first originated in 1997, to now handing out 200 plus meals for those in need of assistance.

“It’s valuable because so many people from different walks of life and teams and social groups are all coming together for a common cause and we care about feeding people for Thanksgiving,” Fitzpatrick said. “And that’s what’s happening and it’s just awesome to be apart of.”

As a 27-foot moving truck pulled up to one of the loading docks at the New Hampshire Food Bank, Brickner-Wood and I made our way around the massive industrial storage unit, dodging forklifts clanking through the aisles.

Food banks are typically home to food that grocery stores cannot legally sell, but is still edible. Food can come from large businesses like Hannaford or Trader Joe’s, local farms, or like this particular location it can even be grown at the food bank itself.

With just 25 employees, the New Hampshire Food Bank serves around 400 food pantries, according to agency relations manager Rick Carter.

“(Of those 400), they could be pantries, soup kitchens, retirement food programs and others,” Carter said.

While Brickner-Wood and I braved the cold of giant freezers and made our rounds with large carts, piling boxes of Lindt chocolate, granola, fresh eggs (somewhat of a rarity for Waysmeet, according to him), pineapples, 50-pound bags of potatoes, onions, carrots and other vegetables, pastry-like desserts, and even aluminum foil and disposable turkey trays for baking, Mike Carlton loaded hundreds of turkeys into his moving truck.

“You gotta help people, right?” he said cheerfully, arranging boxes in the back of his truck.

Carlton owns the moving company Calling All Cargo, and has been contributing to Waysmeet’s Thanksgiving baskets in his own way for the past few years. He donates his time and his truck, driving the food from Manchester back to Durham.

In past years, Brickner-Wood said, Waysmeet would need to drive seven different vehicles to fit the Thanksgiving order. He’s gotten good at judging how much food can fit in a car, but with Carlton’s help for Thanksgiving, the process went smoothly.

“That’s almost $6,500 worth of turkeys and it was all free,” Brickner-Wood said, looking over the printed receipt.

The food bank measures the charge and quantity of the food based on weight. Brickner-Wood simply pushed each cart onto a large scale one by one and awaited his fee.

The original cost of food, not counting the turkeys, was a little over $2,400. Waysmeet’s final fee was just over $14, but only because some of the food hadn’t been placed in the weekly order.

Fourteen dollars for over 6,500 pounds, or in other words, over 3 tons of food.

At this point Brickner-Wood received a call from Fitzpatrick asking where we were. A long line of volunteers had appeared at Waysmeet to help prepare baskets.

“We actually just crossed the Durham town line,” Brickner-Wood said.

Except this year, baskets were done differently. Instead of having all the ingredients predetermined, families could choose what they wanted, based on family size, so as to prevent any items being wasted.

“You might get apples instead of oranges, but you’ll get something,” Brickner-Wood said.

Waysmeet also decided to hand out simple recipes for families that may have missed their box of stuffing or mashed potatoes, but can use the excess of white bread and fresh potatoes to make dishes from scratch instead.

Zachary Adinolfi, a UNH freshman who lives at Waysmeet, woke up to swarms of people in his house.

“You know, sometimes you come downstairs and there’s a whole mess and a whole bunch of random people,” he said. “Sometimes it can be chaotic. One day it will just be trashed and you’ll be like ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ 

“Lots of things happening, always,” he added. “I feel like it’s cool to know that there’s good work going on and by living here I’m able to support it.”

By this point, the jumbled back room of Waysmeet was beginning to look organized as volunteers sorted the canned and boxed food, bags of rice, baking materials and beverages into separate categories.

“We’re trying to get everyone’s generosity, in both donations and time,” Durham resident and longtime volunteer Rosemary Thomson said while sorting through cans, “so tomorrow (Tuesday) when the client’s come–I’m calling them clients–they’ll be all set.”

“It’s amazing what people will do,” she added about the community volunteers. “Absolutely amazing.”

Carlton arrived in his moving van, swung the back door open, and volunteers trickled into the front yard to begin carrying the food bank load inside.

Fifty-pound sacks of vegetables and flour, and boxes brimming with other goods were carried in the front door and around the side to the downstairs entrance of the Cornucopia food pantry.

Eighty-pound boxes, containing four turkeys each, were struggled around to the side porch. I found myself with calloused hands by the end of the 45-minute unloading period.

Then the volunteers were back to work sorting.

With over 100 volunteers Monday, Waysmeet and the people behind the pantry would be ready for day two of the ruckus.

Tuesday entailed handing out and in some cases delivering baskets to families in Durham and at least eight of its surrounding communities: Rochester; Dover; Somersworth; Barrington; Lee; Portsmouth; York, Maine; and even towns as far as Haverhill, Massachusetts, according to Fitzpatrick.

“All of it is really humbling because it’s not something we think of every day, that people around us are actually hungry,” Fitzpatrick said, “but so many of the people–that are even employees of UNH–need food for Thanksgiving, so it kind of gives us a second to slow down and think about what’s important.”