LINCOLN — Facilities Manager and Recycling Coordinator Dave Sale admitted he usually goes away with his wife for Thanksgiving, but they made different plans this year.
As the couple and their daughters' families sat down at the Saylesville home for a magnificent meal, “Grandpa” Sale looked around him and said, “You know what makes me so thankful this year? I know 304 families who right now, or sometime this afternoon, will enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner.
“My girls told me, 'Dad, you've been doing the Lincoln Holiday Baskets Program for years now,'” Sale grinned Tuesday morning. “I just said, 'Yup, but it never gets old.'”
Sale explained from inside his Town Hall office that he and dozens of volunteers are currently planning the program's Christmas/Holiday Baskets version, and that it hardly has been an easy task.
He noted, however, that a whopping 354 families will receive those baskets – consisting of a turkey weighing between 12-14 pounds and all the trimmings – on Wednesday, Dec. 21 at Lincoln High School (also known as the “old middle school”).
Those on the list may pick up their baskets between 2-6 p.m.
“What I do is basically run the program with help from our secretary, Sharon Hartley,” Sale explained Tuesday. “Sharon and I field a lot of the calls, and she or I refer them to folks at the Senior Center; they're the ones who put the list together.”
Sale conveyed a more than touching story that occurred just a couple of weeks ago as he and the volunteers distributed their Thanksgiving food baskets.
“This young man came in the day we were giving people who had signed up their baskets; that was Nov. 21,” he stated. “He walked up to us, and we asked him his name. As we checked the list, he told us he did have proper identification, but he hadn't registered.
“He said he had been talking to a friend of his who explained to him we may be able to help; he told us he lived in Lime Rock with his girlfriend and three-year-old daughter, and said, 'I'm desperate. I have no way to provide a meal for them.'
“His face was as red as an apple from embarrassment; he said he never had done this before,” he continued. “We all looked at him, and we knew he wasn't giving us a line, that he truly needed our help. When I said, 'Yes, we can help you,' he blew out a huge sigh of relief, and he nearly cried. At that point, we were as close to crying as he was. That's why we do this.”
The man walked out not only with a Stop & Shop gift card to purchase a turkey (that given by just one of several generous donors), but also a 10-pound bag of potatoes; fresh vegetables such as butternut squash, etc; canned goods including green beans, corn, beats, carrots, soups, tuna fish and the like; a loaf of bread; and, for dessert, an apple pie.
“When we said we could accommodate him, he just let out a gasp, then thanked us again and again,” Sale beamed. “Everyone there had such a warm feeling.”
Sale claimed the situation proved to be the first time in the approximate 20-year history of the program that they had a “walk-in.” He nevertheless explained a “replay” wouldn't be possible at Christmastime due to the long list of those requesting a meal.
“We can only accept those who call us and reserve baskets, or whose names are given to us by social workers in our schools,” he said.
It gets better. As a part of this program, Lincoln also has instituted a “Giving Tree,” which supplies children between birth and 15 toys and other gifts.
He pointed to the floor in his office at approximately 10 bags of toys, clothing, board games, athletic equipment, etc., and mentioned that one gracious woman had dropped them off to him late last week.
“That's only a third of what she donated; she wanted to remain anonymous, God bless her,” he grinned. “What we're asking from our residents here, or anyone in the area, is to visit our Giving Tree in the (Town Hall) lobby and pick up a tag with the gender and age of a child to whom they can give; that way, they'll have a 'Merry Christmas' or a terrific holiday. We have written on those tags, 'Boy, 2' or 'Girl, 4' or 'Boy, 7,' and they can go out and find something appropriate for someone who's that age.
“This is only an indication of what to buy for someone in that age group; the tags aren't indicative of the number of gifts,” he added. “We use that only as a guide for these kind folks. Right now, we have a list of 160 children that will need gifts because maybe their parents can't afford it, or maybe they've lost their jobs.
“As a rule of thumb, the younger children always receive an exorbitant amount of toys and games, but the area in which we have a problem is teen-agers. When people think of Christmas, they think of young, smiling children as opposed to teens. My question is, “Because they're teen-agers, does that mean they shouldn't get something for Christmas? Of course not.
“When people ask me, 'What should I get a teen? I don't know what to buy for them,' I just say, 'Think back. What did you want when you were that age?' That's when they look back at me and grin.”
As an example, Sale stated, with the economy the way it is, a teen-age boy may not be able to go to a movie with his buddies because the family can't afford it. He may have to tell them, “No, thanks.”
If someone gives him a gift certificate to a movie theater, or to a fast-food restaurant or pizzeria, the boy will not only be able to attend the movie but grab something to eat with his friends afterward.
“We recommend for teen boys footballs, basketballs, board games, etc., and – for girls – cosmetics, a purse, lotions or a gift card to a department store,” he offered. “You also can't lose with clothing, like winter hats, scarves, mittens, stuff like that.”
The deadline for submissions of such gifts is Dec. 20, the day before the food baskets will be given to those who have registered.
“The sooner the better,” Sale said. “We need as much time as possible so we can organize where these gifts are going, and for what gender and age groups. If they come in at the last minute, we can add them to a bag that will be given to a family in need.
“Like I said, we're up to 354 families who will be receiving holiday food baskets, and that's a record,” he added. “The money for the turkeys and produce comes from very generous businesses and organizations in town, and also individuals who wish to give something back. Just (Tuesday) morning, a lady came in and gave me a $200 check for the food baskets.
“That's why I do it, that's why we all do it. There's a need out there, such a huge need. You know, we were overwhelmed the fist year we did this, back in the early '90s. We had 45 food baskets, and that's all. Now we're up to 354. What does that tell you about the need?”
For more information, call Sale at (401) 333-8424.