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Dinner Plans

A small cadre of volunteers spent Saturday preparing an extra blessing that will help more than 300 local households celebrate Thanksgiving Day.

With double-digit unemployment and economic stress still spreading, there are many needy people in the Rogue Valley heading into the holidays. St. Mark's Episcopal Church has responded, with a little help from its friends, by ramping up its annual Thanksgiving basket program to new heights.

A year ago, the St. Mark's congregation had a hand in preparing 200 baskets — turkey included — for families identified by Jackson, Oak Grove and Washington schools, the adjacent Family Nurturing Center, along with a county agency working with single mothers.

With some agencies and churches scaling back efforts, St. Mark's rolled up its collective sleeves and went to work with more than two dozen volunteers Saturday, taping cardboard boxes, carting in canned and dry goods, along with produce and desserts.

Two decades ago, the goal was 50 baskets, said project leader Christian Mathiesen. This year's 300-plus boxes created logistical challenges in St. Mark's cozy fellowship hall.

"The hardest part is to figure out where to put stuff," Mathiesen said as he directed traffic and helpers and rearranged stacks. "There's always the last-minute things when you discover you've got too many of one thing and not enough of another."

Mathiesen said financial donations — primarily from church members — was used for grocery supplies from Sherm's Food 4 Less and Franz Bakery, as well as Columbia Corrugated Box on Brian Way. An order for turkeys was placed with the Food 4 Less meat department in August, and then in September, St. Mark's was a major buyer at Sherm's Thunderbird canned food sale. Later in the month, an order was put in for baked goods at Franz Bakery.

St. Mark's has also received additional donations through the Medford Food Project.

Parishioner Marilyn Myers was a member of the founding committee and has been actively involved since the outreach started a quarter of a century ago in conjunction with nearby First United Methodist Church.

"We ran so far out of food in the first year, we were cutting frozen turkeys with a jigsaw," Myers recalled. "When we ran out of some things, we ran over to the Canned Food Warehouse to buy things. After that we started collecting food during the year at our pantry."

Zion Lutheran Church has chipped in during recent years, while some St. Mary's School students volunteered, as well.

"We used to rely on donations, but a lot of time we realized we didn't have the right things to complete the baskets," Myers said. "So we shifted to donations. For $25 people can buy a food basket for someone."

Among Saturday's helpers was St. Mary's sophomore Dani Lowman, who signed on last week.

"Helping others is fun," Lowman said. "It's not boring when you are helping the community out."

The 300 outbound baskets will be assembled today by parishioners between the 8 and 10 a.m. services and then distributed Tuesday by community volunteers.

"Parishioners will go around with boxes, collecting beans, chili, 5 pounds of potatoes, carrots, desserts and so on," Mathiesen said. "Then we will put them in the garage."

Over the years, St. Mark's has also put together new-mom kits for unwed and at-risk mothers and hygiene kits for men at the Medford Gospel Mission, said Susan Ladue, a member of the church's vestry governing board.

The number of baskets points to the community's need, she said.

"It's an indicator of a growing need, and the response is a wonderful indicator of how far people will push to meet the need."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.

Kristen Kurth helps stack 300 Thanksgiving boxes Saturday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Medford. The boxes will be filled today with food and distributed to families in the community next week. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore