Maybe you've heard of the Community Harvest in Crystal Lake.
The city-wide food collection drive is in its 22nd year.
But if you've never donated, participated, or attended any of the Community Harvest events, you may not understand what it's all about. Most notably, volunteers gather to work on Thanksgiving morning.
"No, we're not packing up Thanksgiving meals," said Community Harvest chairperson Judy Pelinski. "Thanksgiving meals have already gone out by then."
"Community Harvest centers around the harvest theme, the day of giving," Pelinski said. "We have 700 people come to help us sort, pack and store thousands of pounds of food donations for the Crystal Lake Food Pantry."
In its simplest terms, Community Harvest is a massive community-wide food drive jointly coordinated by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and the Crystal Lake Jaycees. The donations, food and money, benefit the pantry patrons and the Jaycees’ Share-A-Christmas program.
It is a combination of "hundreds" of smaller food drives hosted throughout the city by participating businesses, schools, churches, the library, civic organizations, scouting troops, and individuals. Typically, groups begin collection efforts in November, but this year many got a jump-start on the task in October, Pelinski said.
"We have an inner-chamber contest to see who can collect the most donations," Pelinski said. "The winner gets the Spam trophy. A lot of those people wanted to start early because they want the trophy. This year, the schools are competing for their own Spam trophy."
Drop Donations Off - Beginning Friday, Nov. 16
Starting today, the Crystal Lake Jaycees will begin picking up the donations from area schools. Groups and individuals can bring their goods to the Community Harvest headquarters, located in a 14,000-square-foot space in the Crystal Lake Plaza-unit 2D on Route 14. (near Keith Street).
The Community Harvest collection site will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, and Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 19-21. Anyone is welcome to drop off donations during that time, Pelinski said.
Gathering Thanksgiving Morning
All collection efforts culminate on Thanksgiving day.
Years ago, the idea was conceived to have volunteers gather on Thanksgiving morning, from 8 to 11 a.m., to sort all the donations and pack them for patrons and storage. The food and products typically sustain the Crystal Lake Food Pantry, 257 King St., through spring.
Last year, more than 700 people showed up Thanksgiving morning and packed 3,500 boxes. The 2011 Community Harvest raised a record-high $45,000 and more than 97,668 pounds of food and donations.
The supplies stocked the shelves at the Crystal Lake Food Pantry through April, Pelinski said.
"Some people ask why we do this on Thanksgiving morning," Pelinski said. "There are a lot of people who don't have family plans for the holiday.
"This gives people sense of purpose and a sense of family for that day that they otherwise wouldn't have," Pelinski said. "We have all these people come out to volunteer their time on Thanksgiving, and they will hug us and thank us for having this on that day when we feel like we should be hugging them."
How to Donate
Donations can be made online at clpantry.org; checks made payable to the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and mailed to P.O. Box 1071, Crystal Lake, IL 60039-1071, with “Community Harvest” noted in the memo section.