Every year around Thanksgiving, the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County (BGCDC) has been the place to be as over 1,000 people would visit the club for their annual free Community Thanksgiving Dinner – a festive, in-person event with music, entertainment, camaraderie and plenty of food. That won’t be possible this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the staff at BGCDC are still making plans to make this Thanksgiving special for community members and to keep everybody fed with their 2020 Give Thanks Community Meal Giveaway. 

“We are really focused on getting this food out to families across the community and are really trying to make sure that what we would have done in person will still happen for those who need this level of support,” Laura Ford-Harris, Chief Development Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, tells Madison365. “We know how important this is at this time of year, and with COVID-19, they are recommending that family units get together in small groups. … so this will be better.”

Normally, the Boys and Girls Club Thanksgiving Dinner is a fun night of fellowship. This year, the club needed to get a little bit creative and has worked out a way to deliver Thanksgiving meals and have families pick them up.

“The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County would usually have cooks that work in the clubs come in and prepare meals, and hundreds of volunteers welcoming families at a big event with a hot meal and games and activities and giveaways. Last year, we gave away that big-screen TV, gift cards and shopping sprees for the families for the holidays,” says Ford-Harris. “The Boys and Girls Club is really supportive of the community in ensuring at this time that everybody is supported and feeling that nurturing love of the community. We will continue to do that this year but in a little different manner.”

Community members gather at the Sina Davis Community Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. Sina passed away in July of 2019.

“We will do everything we can to assist families during this pandemic as we know the need is great during these challenges,” adds Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. ” We are committed to working twice as hard and smart to connect people to support during this season of giving.”

Knowing that COVID was going to make things different, BGCDC partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank to distribute the Thanksgiving meals to people in the community.  “We knew that they would be a great partner. Since COVID-19 first hit, they’ve helped us give away a lot of food through our pop-up pantry,” Ford-Harris says. “Together, we’ve been able to distribute $133,000 worth of food to families. It’s just amazing the work that they do in this community and we definitely appreciate their support of the Boys and Girls Club.”

Laura Ford-Harris

BGCDC has made it their goal to make sure no one has to miss out on their Thanksgiving meal. “This Thanksgiving we will be giving away 500 turkey or ham meals with all of the fixings. People can sign up at our website in one of our locations,” Ford-Harris says.

Those locations (and meal pick-up times) include:
• McKenzie Family Club, 232 Windsor Street in Sun Prairie on Nov. 18, 3-7 p.m.

• Taft Street Club, 2001 Taft St., Madison on Nov. 20, 3-7 p.m.

• Allied Family Center, 4619 Jenewein Road, on Nov. 20, 3-7 p.m.

“People can just drive in and items will be placed in their cars. Everybody does have to sign up, though,” Ford-Harris says. “This way, we can ensure that we make sure we have a meal for everybody.”

BGCDC is also partnering with Jackie Hunt’s FOSTER (Families Overcoming Struggles to Encourage Resilience) organization, a nonprofit that seeks to promote and strengthen marginalized families particularly families of color through culturally relevant, strength-based, and trauma-informed services,  activities, and resource provision. 

“Ms. Jackie is giving away free Thanksgiving meals also, but once she reaches her total number, we’re going to refer those families here to the Boys and Girls Club. We don’t want anybody to be turned away,” Ford-Harris says. “We will also be supporting Ms. Jackie with some essentials that she’s giving away to the families that she’s providing services for like household cleaning items, personal hygiene items and things of that nature for families she is working with.”

BGCDC is working with the Black Men Coalition of Dane County, a recently formed local organization focused on making the maximum positive effort for the area’s young Black men. “They will also be getting meals from us and through the generosity of a donor, they will also be shopping for boots for the winter season for the kids that they work with,” Ford-Harris says. 

“The final partner that we will be working with our End Time Ministries,” she adds. “We are working with them as a satellite location on the west side for those families that can’t get over to one of our Clubs. End Time Ministries will be giving away 250 Thanksgiving Baskets, too.”

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Dane County is looking for community volunteers to support its members and their families this holiday season whether it be by hosting a giving tree, sponsoring a family or families, hosting a toy drive, or volunteering to distribute or deliver Thanksgiving food.

“We’ve got about 23 or so volunteers signed up to help at the different clubs and to actually put these Thanksgiving boxes or bags together for the families. Some will help with the drive-by distribution. We are always looking for more volunteers, so if somebody is interested in volunteering, they can come out and volunteer,” Ford-Harris says. “We will be providing PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] so you will have gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer and we will be working in spaces that are spread out.

“The Boys and Girls Club will be having so many holiday events going on through December, too, including another 500 Christmas meals that will be distributed,” she adds. “Everything is at our website or Facebook page that we will keep updated. We just really want to be there to help the community however we can over the holidays.” 

For more information about Thanksgiving Baskets, BGCDC holiday events or to volunteer, click here.