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Reaching out to help others

Maggie Kennedy, 7, of Youngstown, and her mother, Heather Kennedy, place a pumpkin in a vehicle. The four-hour giveaway was a collaborative effort between the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission and Gleaners Community Food Bank in Youngstown.

CANFIELD — Soon after the beginning of the pandemic last spring, Elizabeth Shafer was laid off from both of her jobs, but with the holidays approaching, she’s back to work and happy to brighten the holidays for others — some of whom may be suffering the same fate she had.

“We do mission projects, and everyone needs helped out this year,” the Brookfield resident said.

During Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home edict that began in late March, Shafer was unable to work as a beautician or as a server at Yankee Kitchen restaurant in Vienna. But now she’s glad to reach out to those in need, many of whom came to a large drive-thru Thanksgiving food distribution Saturday at the Canfield Fairgrounds.

The four-hour giveaway was a collaborative effort between the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission and Gleaners Community Food Bank in Youngstown. It also followed COVID-19 guidelines by requiring those who came to remain in their vehicles.

For Shafer, volunteering at the gathering was a family affair, because her daughter, Kimberly Shafer, and four grandchildren distributed mango, grape, kiwi or orange juice as well as lemon-flavored iced tea to motorists. Theirs was one of the last stops before recipients received free turkeys.

Assisting the Shafer family was Jackii Edwards of Youngstown, whose late husband, Derick Edwards, served four years in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War. In addition, her brother, Aaron Hubbard, served in the Vietnam War.

“I volunteer a lot of places,” said Edwards, who retired earlier this year from Hynes Industries in Austintown.

A long line of slow-moving vehicles snaked through the fairgrounds as families received food items that included 15-pound frozen turkeys, bags of sweet potatoes, cans of cranberry sauce and cartons of eggs, along with gallon jugs of milk, onions, yams, bags of stuffing and a variety of snacks.

A handful of volunteers also gave motorists free pumpkins, something that generated added excitement for Maggie Kennedy, 7, a first-grader at St. Christine School in Youngstown.

“She likes to help people,” Maggie’s mother, Heather Kennedy, said, adding that many other family members and relatives also participated in the effort. “Once we were here, we didn’t want to take breaks. We were like, ‘We’re good.'”

Among those in the family who pitched in were Maggie’s older sister, Molly, 9, who was passing out skin moisturizing cream to motorists, and the girls’ father, Brian Kennedy, the Veterans Service Commission’s commissioner and an Iraq War veteran.

The food distribution was made possible via a $250,000 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) grant the VSC was awarded in August. About $50,000 of the CARES Act funding was used to buy the turkeys, noted Susan Krawchyk, the agency’s executive director.

“We decided to do something more special this Thanksgiving, so we purchased 2,500 turkeys,” she said.

Krawchyk also pointed to the greater need for such a food drive this year — especially since many people have been furloughed or lost their jobs because of the pandemic and might not be able to afford to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Enough food was on hand to feed about 6,000 families, she continued.

The event likely proved highly beneficial to people who have tried but were unsuccessful in receiving financial and other types of assistance, said Krawchyk, who also praised the estimated 148 volunteers, including Canfield High School students, for assisting with the food distribution.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap to help them get access to healthy food,” she added.

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