BY DENNIS SHAUGHNESSEY, Valley Dispatch Staff
DRACUT — Nick Manolis loves food. He loves to eat it. He loves to cook it and he loves to sell it.
Food is his business. For almost 30 years, Manolis has owned the Dracut House of Pizza on Lakeview Avenue.
“To think of somebody on Thanksgiving with not enough money to get a turkey dinner on their table just hurts me inside. It really does,” Manolis said recently as he kicked off the 12th Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive. “My mother taught us that when you see somebody with a need, you do what you can to fill that need.”
What started modestly in 1993 — 30 food baskets — has grown into a huge production that will serve 450 needy families this year.
“But the important thing is to get the word out,” Manolis said. “Local charities are taking a beating this year because of Hurricane Katrina. That is very important, but we can’t overlook the local need. We’re not getting the same amount of donations we have received in the past. But we’re confident, and people will come around.”
Baskets include a turkey, two 2-liter bottles of soda, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, bread, cakes, pies, potato chips and even baby toys if Manolis knows the need is there.
“It’s a big show. You should see it when we get going. We have over 100 volunteers,” said an excited Manolis. “The fun starts on the Sunday before Thanksgiving when all the deliveries show up. We put everything in boxes and get the baskets ready. Then on Monday around 6 p.m. we have a big buffet and start loading the vans. It’s like an assembly line. Then we hit the road.”
The 450 baskets are delivered in less than three hours, Manolis said. Names are collected from various organizations, such as the Wish Foundation, The Dracut Council on Aging, the Bartlett School in Lowell and a local shelter for battered women. Donations pour in from Coca-Cola, Washington Savings Bank and Enterprise Bank, and many others.
A special note is included with the basket that reads, “This is from someone who cares. Please do well enough for yourself so that someday you’ll be able to the same for another.”
“This is what drives us,” Manolis said. “We have people helping us now who received a basket or two in the past. They have gotten up on their feet and now they want to help out. That’s what it’s all about. There are families among us who could use a little help.”
Nonperishable food items can be dropped off at the Dracut House of Pizza, 1067 Lakeview Ave. Arrangements can be made to have the donations picked up by calling 978-957-4210. Monetary donations are also accepted.
Here’s a list of other area agencies that will be delivering Thanksgiving dinners.
The 15th annual Thanksgiving/Christmas food drive, sponsored by the Dracut Veterans Services, town employees, and the dracut Dirt Dog baseball team. Food items as well as toys and clothing for infants to teens can be dropped off at the Dracut Town Hall, Town Hall annex, Moses Greeley Parker Library and the Council on Aging.
New toys and clothes can be dropped off at Town Hall from Monday through Fiday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., until Dec. 12. To arrange monetary donations, contact William Zounes at 978-453-9492.
* The Pelham Food Pantry, 12 Main Street, next to St. Patrick clubhouse, is open every Wednesday from 1-3 p.m. It’s currently stocking up for Thanksgiving.
* The Lawrence/Methuen Community Coalition (471 Broadway St., Lawrence) will be distributing 80 Thanksgiving food baskets to families in Methuen and Lawrence on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.
* Lazarus House (48 Holly St., Lawrence) will be delivering 2,000 food baskets to families in Methuen, Lawrence, Haverhill, Andover and North Andover at the beginning of next week. They will also be holding a meal on Thanksgiving Day from noon to 3 p.m. at the Plains Community Center, 245 Hampshire St., Lawrence, for anyone in the area who wants to attend.
* The Neighbors in Need Food Pantry (1 Broadway, Methuen) is open every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. for food pickup. They also ran an adopt-a-family program where sponsors purchased food for baskets to be distributed to families next week.
Have a story idea? E-mail Dennis Shaughnessey at firstname.lastname@example.org.