More than 1,000 Newton County families have cabinets filled with food this holiday season, thanks to the generosity of their neighbors and fellow community members.

More than 1,000 Newton County families have cabinets filled with food this holiday season, thanks to the generosity of their neighbors and fellow community members.

On Saturday, the Newton County Food Basket Brigade, in their 25th year, set up a make-shift grocery store inside the former Auto Tech building, on north College Street, where families pushed shopping carts through the aisles of stacked groceries.

Volunteers distributed the goods, including bags of rice, boxes of macaroni and cheese, apples, oranges, cornbread mix, and canned goods.

Terry Cook, president of the food basket brigade, said the overall goal of the annual brigade is to strive to leave no family hungry at Christmas.

"This is huge, because our whole mission of the food basket brigade is to provide enough food for people to have a holiday meal and then enough food for groceries for approximately a week after that," Cook said. "We don't want anybody going hungry at Christmas."

For families like Amber Lundgren's, the event will help to feed them at a time when assistance is most needed.

"It will help us out tremendously right now with the holidays and stuff," Lundgren said. "I've been out of work, I can't find work, I've had too much medical stuff. My husband's the only one working right now, so, this is going to help us out tremendously."

Several recipients spoke of struggles similar to Lundgren's.

Rebecca Jones and Jason Gibson attended Saturday's distribution event, and said this has also been a tough holiday season for them, as Gibson recently became unemployed.

For Jones, the experience of being at the food basket brigade event has come full circle.

"It's a really good thing. When I was in high school and college, I helped out with it," Jones said. "It's just been a really rough year and we didn't have much of a choice this year."

The program began in 1988, and has distributed more than five million pounds of food since that time.
Community members, businesses and school children have collected and donated food, raised and donated money, or gone door-to-door throughout the community collecting goods to donate to come up with the piles of groceries distributed on Saturday.

"It seems like when you have this little food show every year, that people dig a little deeper in their pockets every year," Cook said. "You're not going to find a better group of people than Southwest Missouri on the face of this earth, they're the best. Newton County always comes through."

Despite changes in the economy and several new faces going through the line or volunteering each year, the Newton County Food Basket Brigade has been a constant for the Neosho/ Newton County area, serving as an annual reminder of the good that comes from helping one's neighbor.

Virginia McKenzie was there to lend a helping hand at the first food basket brigade 25 years ago, and was there to help distribute the goods again this Saturday. In fact, she's been involved every year since the program's beginning. She can't recall how she first became involved with the Brigade, but says it is a program she cares deeply about.

"I think this is one of the best programs that we have in the county and it's a meaningful program," McKenzie said. "These people are so appreciative of the food. With the contributions from everybody, a lot of people in the county, and the businesses, we are able to have money to buy the extra food that we need and it's just a community effort that's very successful."

Cook said the number of donations and volunteers was up this year, with those helpers on hand Saturday ranging in age from grade school students to senior citizens.