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UND students provide Thanksgiving meals for needy families

After 33 years of putting together turkey baskets for needy local families, UND's Mortar Board honor society had it down to a system. On Friday afternoon, they were piling potatoes and bags full of packaged food in a row in the university's big g...

UND Mortar Board member Sarah Kraning assembles a Thanksgiving basket
UND Mortar Board member Sarah Kraning assembles a Thanksgiving basket as she and other volunteers from the organization filled baskets for needy families Friday afternoon at UND. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

After 33 years of putting together turkey baskets for needy local families, UND's Mortar Board honor society had it down to a system.

On Friday afternoon, they were piling potatoes and bags full of packaged food in a row in the university's big garage. Some bags had more food for larger families, some had less for smaller families.

The frozen turkeys would be picked up this morning so they wouldn't sit in the warm garage overnight.

Kristi Okerlund, their advisor and a former Mortar Board student herself, said 1,266 families will drive through today and students will deposit the appropriate goodies in their trunks.

Though there had been a waiting list, every family who wants a basket this year will get one.

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The same thing happened last year, but there were only about 700 families, she said, which just goes to show how much the need has grown.

That's about an 80 percent increase over a year.

Rewards

"This is one of my favorite parts of the year," said Tommy Van Norman. "It's such a great event."

Now a graduate student and an advisor, he remembered how rewarding the turkey basket drive was when he was an undergraduate in Mortar Board.

It's still rewarding, he said.

As the honor society starts collecting names of needy families from social service agencies, he's always told how thankful the families are for the service, he said. But he enjoys seeing those families more when they come in, he said.

Each year, Mortar Board students, including new members, vote to see if they want to continue doing turkey baskets and invariably every hand goes up, Okerlund said. They do this to ensure that the students are really committed to the idea, she said.

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"The most important part for me is just seeing what it's meant to the students," she said. "I know what it's meant to me as a student."

Needs growing

Each family coming to the garage will get a turkey, a bag of potatoes, frozen pie crust, pie filling, cranberry sauce, stuffing mix and canned vegetables. The baskets vary in size from those meant to feed families of four or less, families of five to eight and families of nine or more.

Okerlund said the number of families to be served this year works out to about 5,000 individuals. Last year, it was about 3,500, she said.

To feed them all, Mortar Board students have raised more than $13,000 for this year. Last year, they raised $15,000 and some of the unspent funds were spent this year.

Each student had the task of raising at least $200, Van Norman said. It's a bit scary but they all managed to do it somehow, whether taking it out of their paycheck or asking for donations from friends and relatives, he said.

This year, Mortar Board's task was tougher because it didn't have the benefit of a food drive by student athletes, Okerlund said.

This was because community needs have grown so much that the athletes have decided to do their food drive in the spring to help feed needy families during another part of the year, a move Mortar Board members fully agreed with, she said.

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Call Tran at (701) 780-1248; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1248; or send email to ttran@gfherald.com .

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