JANESVILLE—Steve Geisler picks up the Jennie-O turkey from the table behind him and happily places it in the cart passing in front of him.
“Keep ’em coming,” and “here you go,” Geisler says with a smile.
Geisler is one of about 300 volunteers who donated their time at the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds on Saturday morning to help ECHO distribute food for Thanksgiving meals to low-income Janesville residents.
ECHO, or Everyone Cooperating to Help Others, is a faith-based non-profit that has distributed Thanksgiving food baskets since 1975 to Janesville families.
Each year volunteers are matched with an individual or family who has reserved a basket ahead of time. The volunteers walk with the recipient through the lines to pick up their turkey, stuffing, fresh baked goods and other Thanksgiving staples.
This is the first year Jodi Clark volunteered for ECHO’s basket distribution. Clark volunteered because, as she put it, “it’s the right thing to do.”
“Look at all these people who showed up to volunteer,” Clark said. “It’s amazing.”
This year 1,000 Thanksgiving baskets were distributed to feed more than 2,500 people, Jessica Schafer-Locher, ECHO office manager, said.
To receive a Thanksgiving basket, people must sign-up in advance and be a Janesville resident. When they pick up the basket they need to show proof of their income, a current utility bill and a photo identification.
Mike Farrey, volunteer coordinator for the event, said yesterday’s distribution is a way to bring together people across Rock County and provide a holiday meal for those who wouldn’t have one otherwise.
“I like to see the clients and know they’re getting a Thanksgiving meal like the one my family and I have,” Farrey said. “Without the distribution, Thanksgiving would be another day without a meal.”
In line to receive a basket was Jacqueline Bradley.
Bradley plans to use her Thanksgiving basket to help put a smile on her friends’ faces that are coming to her home Thursday for dinner with her family.
“I’m going to make that stretch,” Bradley said. “The basket is for me, but I’m cooking for them.”
Geisler volunteers because of the gratitude and thankfulness of people like Bradley.
“I love to see the smiles and tears on peoples faces when they come here,” Geisler said. “It makes my Thanksgiving.”
ECHO starts fundraising in October to cover the cost of purchasing the food from Sentry.
Each basket costs $30. To cover the cost, the organization will need to raise $30,000, Schafer-Locher said.
The money is typically raised by the time the bills come in the mail, Farrey said. Donations can be made online at www.echojanesville.org.