At least one Christmas tradition is remaining in place despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Free meals will be given to people in Jackson and Jennings counties on Christmas morning for the ninth year in a row.
A couple of changes, though, include cold meals instead of the traditional hot meals and volunteers wearing masks remaining in their vehicles to deliver 15 to 20 meals.
The deadline to order a meal is Dec. 22, and that can be done by calling 812-565-2675.
Between 9:30 a.m. and noon Dec. 25, volunteers can pull behind The Brooklyn Pizza Co., 753 W. Second St., Seymour, to have food placed in their vehicle to deliver.
The project was started by Shawn Malone, owner of The Brooklyn Pizza Co. and The Seymour Brewing Co., and his wife, Jennifer Malone, and fellow business owners Brian “Bubba” and Jessica D’Arco, who run Bubba’s Place.
A couple of months ago, Shawn said he asked his wife if this is the year they won’t offer the meals because of the pandemic.
“She said, ‘You’ve got to do it. You may need to do it now more than ever,’” he said, considering more people are struggling in various ways.
The big question was how to do it safely and effectively and make it count, Shawn said.
“At first, I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just do 800 meals, and the first 800 people get in,’” he said. “Well, that’s almost half of what we served last year, so that really wasn’t a great idea.”
Last year, nearly 1,400 meals were handed out. Since the program’s inception, Shawn said around 10,000 meals have been distributed.
He recently sent messages to 25 other business owners and local churches and gave them an opportunity to sponsor 50 meals for $250 or 100 meals for $500.
“Within a couple of days, we had raised the money to do this,” Shawn said. “It was pretty awesome. Folks really showed up in numbers to donate the money to make that happen.”
He received enough donations to purchase 1,700 boxed lunches from AVI Foodsystems in Seymour. Each meal will include a choice of ham or turkey deluxe sub with a side, fruit, a cookie and a bottled water.
“Every year, we’ve done the hot Christmas meals,” Shawn said. “That was always our goal was to serve a hot meal, but it takes about 50 volunteers gathered that morning for a few hours to prepare the meals, so we’re not comfortable doing that, and we don’t want to put people in harm’s way, but we do want to feed people this year.”
Usually, Shawn said they are able to prepare the meals for about half of the cost because they do all of the labor. This year, even with AVI Foodsystems preparing the meals, the company offered a nice discount, he said.
“It’s just a bigger number this year to make it happen with us not being able to eat the labor, and yet we’re still going to get it done,” Shawn said.
People may order a meal for themselves or for someone they know who needs it. Information needed includes name, address, phone number, number of meals and choice of ham or turkey.
“I want the people to get this food,” Shawn said. “So many small business owners wrote checks for $250 and $500, and I want that to be reflected in the community by these people getting to eat.”
On Christmas morning, Shawn and Jennifer will be joined by Brent Gill in getting the food to Brian D’Arco and Chris Kaufman, who will direct traffic and place food in volunteers’ vehicles. Jessica D’Arco and Danielle Kaufman are in charge of logistics.
All of the volunteers will wear masks, and those making deliveries are asked to do the same.
“Last year, we turned away probably 30 or 40 vehicles at the end,” Shawn said. “They sat there for an hour on Christmas morning, but when you’re sitting there, you see the hands and feet, you see people in your community giving of their time on Christmas morning to deliver meals, and nobody was sour about it. They were like, ‘OK. Merry Christmas, and God bless.’”
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To order a Christmas Day meal in Jackson and Jennings counties, call 812-565-2675.
Anyone interested in volunteering to deliver meals should arrive behind The Brooklyn Pizza Co., 753 W. Second St., Seymour, between 9:30 a.m. and noon Dec. 25. Volunteers wearing masks will place the food in your vehicle and give you the list of addresses to deliver to, and you are asked to wear a mask, too.