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Food closet brimming with thankful people

by Sheila Gardner

With the help of volunteers like sisters Sam and Sidney Spacher and their cousin Dillon Perry, the Carson Valley Community Food Closet distributed 454 Thanksgiving boxes on Tuesday.

Sam, 11, Sidney, 10, and Dillon, 10, were visiting from Alta Loma, Calif., and helped out at the food closet with their aunt, Michelle Van Amburg of Gardnerville.

“I think it’s just fun,” Dillon said. “It’s better than sitting home watching TV.”

The Spachers and Dillon were bagging fresh vegetables and adding staples like cranberry sauce and stuffing to the boxes.

“It’s one onion and five potatoes,” Sam said. “You just follow the numbers.”

Sidney said she didn’t mind giving up a few hours of her vacation.

“This is a whole new experience for me,” she said. “It’s so fun doing a good deed. It must mean a lot to the people who get the boxes. I feel so blessed.”

Van Amburg said volunteering at the food closet was a family tradition. Since helpers must be at least 10, this was the first year her nieces and nephew could help.

“I think it’s good for the kids to come out and pack food for the less fortunate,” she said. “It gives them a better appreciation for things.”

With the economic downturn, food closet Director Eileen Boettiger said she was not surprised at the 23 percent increase in requests.

Last year, 369 boxes were distributed for Thanksgiving.

“We’re seeing young and old people, moms and dads, families, singles, seniors. We have individuals who lost their jobs and their homes. One of our families was living in a camper,” Boettiger said.

Each participant received a turkey, pie, potatoes, rolls, vegetables, fruit, cranberry sauce and dressing.

“This year, we cut out the yams and Cool Whip,” Boettiger said. “We had to cut back somewhere.”

In addition to individual donations, Snyder Livestock of Yerington donated 750 pounds of onions, Raley’s donated potatoes and Scolari’s offered turkeys, pies and rolls.

Diane Malone, who started out managing the food closet in 1988 and still works regularly as a volunteer, said the people who help “are the cream of the crop.”

On Tuesday, that included about three dozen workers who were packing boxes and directing a steady stream of recipients through the facility.

Members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Posse volunteer every year and mingled with the regulars.

“I wouldn’t have stuck with this as long as I have if it didn’t make me feel so good,” Malone said.

Volunteer Heidi Ghan echoed her sentiments.

“This year more than ever people are more grateful for what they have and what they can do,” she said.

Ghan, a member of Hilltop Community Church, said the congregation distributed food on Sunday to 100 families.

“These are hard economic times,” she said. “A lot of people are out of work.”

Malone said the food closet receives many thank-you notes from grateful recipients.

“Some of them say they would never have a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without our help,” she said.

Boettiger told the story of a former beneficiary who makes a cash donation around this time of year.

“She just brings cash. She doesn’t want any credit or thanks,” Boettiger said.

Ghan said volunteering at the food closet gives her and others a chance to pay back.

“People need an opportunity to help out in their community,” she said.

All recipients are screened through Douglas County Social Services or the Washoe Tribe, and receive vouchers they redeem for food.

Boettiger said she’s anticipating a busy Christmas, and invited residents to make donations “starting yesterday.”

“We need turkeys and ham, cranberry sauce and stuffing,” she said.

And, she’s always looking for volunteers.