ELKHART — Cars were lined up from the Northern Indiana Event Center parking lot all the way out to C.R. 17 on Friday morning.
Underneath a layer of thick fog, Salvation Army employees and volunteers provided care packages and frozen turkeys for 922 people to celebrate the Christmas season.
“I think it’s great for people who otherwise can’t afford it,” said Eraka Lewallen, who says that the care package — turkey, grocery gift card and Toys for Tots voucher — will go toward her family of four.
“This is our fifth year doing it,” said recipient Herbert Williams. “It’s hard out here, so we try to get all the help we can get.”
Even the people that were receiving the care packages wanted to make sure they were helping out as well.
Volunteers accidentally gave one woman two more turkeys than were allotted. After she came home and realized the surplus, she returned the turkeys to the event center.
“People in need also want to give back too somehow” said Salvation Army Captain Jodi Montgomery, “and she could have kept those (turkeys) if she wanted but she didn’t.”
Turkeys and care packages consisting of household goods were distributed in an almost drive-through fashion. Volunteers loaded the care packages into the cars of recipients who were then sent on their way.
But this year, the number of applicants for care packages has increased.
“It’s been increasing every year,” said Montgomery. “It increased significantly this year.”
According to Montgomery, there were 795 applicants in 2011 and 804 the year after. This year, there were 922 applicants.
And with so many people driving to receive care packages, the result is a long line of cars. Montgomery, however, couldn’t be happier with the distribution location.
“The reason we’re out here (at the NIEC) is because of the traffic,” Montgomery said. With previous distributions taking place in downtown Elkhart and along industrial parkway, she said, moving to the event center “seems to be working really well.”
Every year, the Salvation Army purchases these care packages for people in need; largely from money raised via volunteer bell ringers.
“We give away stuff every day,” said Montgomery, “but this is our big giveaway.”
For more information about the Salvation Army, to volunteer or donate, visit saelkhart.org or dial 970-0088.