SEBRING — Karen Baas had eight people lined up Tuesday to help pack Thanksgiving meals, and she got 16. What should have taken four hours of work took two.

On Monday, she had seven confirmed to help and got 16, and also finished early.

While preparing to talk to the Highlands News-Sun about how much volunteer help she’s seen for the joint Faith Lutheran Church/The Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner take-out and delivery, she got a call from the local franchise of a chain coffee and bakery cafe, offering to roast up to 12 of their turkeys for the event.

Two volunteers immediately loaded up turkeys and made to leave, but only after she gave them the cooking and prepping schedule for Wednesday.

Later, a driver for a local business arrived with a restaurant-grade rolling food warmer, to help keep meals warm before they go out.

As she sat down to talk — once she had a moment to sit — another caller asked about volunteering for the event itself. She told them to come for the morning shift — 9 a.m. to noon — because it would likely be the busiest.

“That was my fifth call today,” Baas said. “People just volunteer out of the woodwork.”

A Minnesota transplant who joined Faith Lutheran in 2019, shortly after moving to Sebring, Baas said she’s put in volunteer hours with the food access and church outreach, but was surprised how smoothly this joint venture has gone.

“It’s so easy, and everybody just volunteers to do things,” Baas said.

It has been a team effort, with the team doing most of the work, she said: Everyone from Tisha Lockwood, rumored the real logistics guru, to veterans on bicycles who just walked up and started helping.

The idea for the event came out of a conversation between Faith Lutheran Pastor Robert J. Maulella, also known as “Pastor Rob,” and Don Elwell, a board member for The Salvation Army. Elwell came up with the idea of teaming up, Maulella said, and what would have been two nonprofit organizations feeding 400 people each for Thanksgiving has become a 1,100-meal event.

It’s not sit-down. All of the meals will either get delivered or picked up from Faith Lutheran.

Sandy Meeks, director of The Salvation Army of Highlands County, had expressed hope that the joint effort could feed as many as 1,000. By Nov. 17, a full week before the planned deadline for people to sign up, they had to cut applications. Maulella reported at that time that they had hit the 1,000-meal mark, or just beyond it.

As she was finishing up, Maulella arrived to see how everyone was doing, eager to see it all come together. Together, they said this is just what organizations should do each year to help people, and then throughout the rest of the year, because the need never ends.

Of course, whether through the many who donated food or who donated time and effort, getting a lot of help during the holidays never hurts.

“The more hands we have doing it, the more fun it is, because it’s less stressful,” Baas said. “It’s easy, even though we’re serving 1,100 people.”

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