On the Friday before Thanksgiving, volunteers at the Elwood Smith Community Center in Rockville were getting ready for holiday dinners.
Lots of holiday dinners.
In one corner, about 28 blue recycling bins held bags of potatoes. Nearby, cardboard boxes overflowed with boxes of stuffing, cans of green beans, cans of corn and the occasional rogue can of pineapple chunks.
Jacqueline Williams volunteered to sort food and pack boxes with her son Chris, 13.
“We started last year ... just to give back to the community,” she said.
Carlos Aparicio, Rockville’s community services manager, said groups of volunteers packed a few hundred boxes Friday evening, and more groups were scheduled to come in on Saturday to sort, pack and deliver the food. All together, he estimated the Thanksgiving food drive would deliver 500 to 600 boxes of food to needy families.
Jason and Elena Waskey have volunteered for the Rockville Holiday Drive in the past, but this year, they rounded up a group of volunteers from the King Farm neighborhood to serve along with them.
“We actually showed up and were just volunteering, and they put us to work,” Jason said.
Aparicio said people seem as willing as ever to pack and deliver boxes.
“We have a very dedicated community, and a lot of people come out and want to deliver,” he said.
While finding helping hands has not been a challenge this year, Aparicio said his department has had to put more effort into collecting monetary donations to cover the rising cost of produce and other perishable food, which the city purchases to add to donated canned goods.
“I’ve seen the cost of food go up dramatically,” he said. “Last year, for example, a simple pound of butter had gone up 29 cents. When you’re doing about 1,000 pounds of butter ... it’s additional money.”
Aparicio is also thinking ahead to December and Rockville’s toy drive.
“It’s always necessary to get more [donations],” he said. “One of the places we see the biggest hit is the December holidays, because the price of toys has gone up.”
Even accounting for inflation, $15 at the toy store just doesn’t buy what it used to, Aparicio said.
Sandra Dawson, program coordinator for Gaithersburg’s Community Services Division, said her department purchases Thanksgiving food baskets through Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C. Each basket includes four types of meat, stuffing mix, macaroni, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, onions, apples and other produce, and costs about $20.
“It gives you enough to prepare Thanksgiving dinner and then some,” Dawson said.
This year, Gaithersburg’s Thanksgiving food programs served about 745 families in coordination with Montgomery County’s programs — some received food baskets, some were invited to a community dinner on Thanksgiving Day and some were sponsored by other families and organizations.
Dawson said that as food prices go up, donors become more generous with their giving.
“We always worry that we may not have enough, and our donors are always amazing,” she said.