Before getting underway Saturday in the St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church parking lot in Lenoir City, Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County volunteers paused to pray over the opportunity to serve.

As usual, the annual Thanksgiving basket distribution started earlier than the scheduled time of 9 a.m. because cars were lining up.

“They love doing this project,” Cindy Black, Good Sam executive director, said of volunteers. “Everybody wants to do something special at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but this we know is helping our clients. These are people that they see, and a lot of people you get coming to these things are just random off the street, but for us at the Good Samaritan Center they’ve come to us, they’re our clients and this is something that every family deserves.

“We know that we’re giving out good food, we know that we’re giving out some good canned food, some pies and rolls and canned foods and then their certificate to Food City,” she added. “It’s just so important because it is a time of giving and a time of thanks.”

Clients received stuffing, pie crust and filling, gravy mix, canned vegetables and rolls. They were also given a $15 Food City gift certificate for vegetables or meat and a pack of toilet paper, which was donated days before by Tate & Lyle.

“For many people, they don’t have a meal like this all the time,” Black said. “They’re doing fast food, they’re doing just what they’ve got in their cabinet and this is a cohesive meal, it can be, if they take this home and it’s a full meal that when you see pictures of Thanksgiving and a family around a table, this is what they can have. ... Everybody deserves that.”

Including the baskets given this week to Loudon clients, Black said Good Sam would distribute 370 vouchers.

“It’s been up to around 500 in years past and ... even last year when it was one of the first things we really did as a big group in COVID, I think we gave out more vouchers at that time,” Black said. “I don’t know why, maybe everybody’s doing better.”

In the days leading up to the distribution, volunteers packed 1,000 boxes within five days, Evelyn Edwards, Good Sam pantry manager, said. She estimated 15,000 pounds of food were ready to be given out.

“This is really exciting,” Edwards said. “We started last year instead of putting all the boxes and the bags together here, I’ve changed it over to Good Samaritan to load and do this. All we have to do is load the van up and load the truck up and then get it all out here. It’s 100% better.”

Edwards said she enjoys the annual day spent helping those who need help the most.

Following retirement, Mary Ann Blank has volunteered at Good Sam for eight years and in one way or another has had a hand in the distribution.

“You can see the appreciation on everyone’s face as they come through and just the ‘happy Thanksgiving and God bless you.’ It’s just a wonderful thing,” Blank said.

Sue Suter has volunteered 10 years and the distribution has become a Thanksgiving tradition. She helped hand out rolls.

“I don’t have a family so I don’t really have community, so this few minutes of time to just be with somebody else, in the moment with somebody else, sharing Thanksgiving with somebody else in this manner is just (great),” Suter said. “The people are just so thankful and it’s just the feeling of connecting for those few minutes with somebody. This is how I celebrate my Thanksgiving because I don’t have a family. This is my tradition to do this every year.”