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November 27, 2013

Delivering joy a turkey at a time

Just when the Mission feared there'd be no Thanksgiving ...

TERRE HAUTE — A volunteer assisted Melissa Gallagher as they went from table to table at Light House Mission gathering items for her food basket: green beans and corn, stuffing and noodles, cranberry sauce and canned pumpkin.

They proceeded to another area, where Gallagher received a turkey, potatoes and bread.

The basket means a lot to Gallagher, 35, a single mother with four children. “This means the difference between eating and not eating,” she said Tuesday morning.

Thanks to the community’s generosity, the Light House Mission was able to distribute 1,148 Thanksgiving baskets this year, and Gallagher was one of the grateful recipients.

The century-old tradition almost didn’t happen this year, said Bonnie Wallace, the mission’s director of development. “We knew this was going to be a hard winter,” she said, and the mission’s top priorities are to shelter people, feed residents three meals a day and provide meals to the community.

“The colder the winter, the more our numbers go up,” she said.

At first, the mission didn’t believe it had the resources to provide Thanksgiving baskets this year.

“It broke our hearts we weren’t going to be able to help people at Thanksgiving,” Wallace said. “But because of the community stepping up and saying we’ll help, we were able to do 1,148 baskets, which we think is fantastic.”

Terre Haute Ministries got involved and conducted a radiothon. While it didn’t reach a $30,000 goal, it eventually did raise more than $10,000.

Other donors helped bring the amount raised to around $17,000.

In addition, the Sycamore Ridge Strutters, a chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, donated about 150 turkeys, while another group donated 22 turkeys. “That helped us provide more baskets,” Wallace said.

The average price for each basket is $17.50. “It’s what you need for a basic Thanksgiving meal,” she said.

Last year, the mission gave away 1,636 baskets, so it is about 500 behind this year. But without the efforts of Terre Haute Ministries and others, no baskets would have been given. “Everyone in the community pulling together made this happen,” Wallace said.

Monday night, volunteers assembled about 500 baskets to give to 10 organizations, including Hamilton Center, the Terre Haute Housing Authority and Area 7; those groups, in turn, give baskets to their clients in need.

On Tuesday, other recipients went to the mission for their baskets, which are put together assembly-line style, with different goods at each table in the mission’s dining area. Volunteers were available to help recipients carry the grocery bags full of goods.

“We can do 35 families every 15 minutes,” Wallace said. “That’s how we get through really quickly.”

Recipients must meet income qualifications and sign up through the Salvation Army.

The mission also arranges limited deliveries, primarily for homebound elderly. Again, volunteers do the deliveries.

Among those getting baskets Tuesday were Rebecca and Raymond Cuffle. “Without this, we wouldn’t have Thanksgiving dinner,” Rebecca Cuffle said. “Things are tight, especially when you are on a monthly income.”

They have three children; one is special needs and another has health problems. Rebecca’s husband is on disability.

She is thankful for Light House Mission and the food basket. “If it wasn’t for them, a lot of these people wouldn’t be able to have anything” for Thanksgiving, Cuffle said.

Also in line for a basket was Kaneesha Johnson, 24, who has a 3-month-old daughter. “I think it’s a good thing they are doing this for people who really don’t have a family to go to or don’t have enough money for Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or


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