After Saturday's food drive, two U-Haul trailers full of ramen, cereal, canned corn and green beans, macaroni and cheese, and other dry food were parked in the bus barn at Celebration Community Church.

“It went great this weekend,” Ken Brooks said.

“About 10 o’clock we get a call from the volunteers that were at the big Dillon’s and someone had donated four grocery carts full of groceries,” said Brooks, one of several organizers of the project.

Those donations will be given away free on Thursday to anyone who needs it, following the annual Thanksgiving Day Feast hosted by the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance.

Maybe it was the cold weather this Saturday, or maybe it’s that people shopping Walmart and Dillon’s in Hays have big hearts, but the reality is that now it’ll take a small army of volunteers to sort it and load it into sacks.

“We would love more volunteers,” Brooks said. “If we can get the word out and have anybody from the community that wants to help, that would be great.”

Bagging is Wednesday evening, starting at 5 p.m. when volunteers will haul the food into the Rose Garden Banquet Hall, 2350 E. Eighth Street, then sort it and bag it into 200 grocery sacks for the give-away.

This will be the 12th year for the free community meal, which traditionally draws about 600 people to the Rose Garden. First Call for Help organizes set up on Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Thursday, delivers meals to the homebound.

Despite the popularity of the grocery bag project, it almost didn’t happen this year after the former organizer moved away.

Brooks, Anne Ebert, Jessica Johnson and others got it back on track, helped by more than 75 volunteers, and a persuasive announcement from the pulpit by Celebration Pastor Brant Rice, who also put sign-up sheets at the welcome desk.

“It was all good people helping,” Brooks said.

Such as those who donated the U-Hauls, including John Luecke, owner of Storage Solutions of Hays, 765 E. 41st St.

Besides groceries donated Saturday, there will be a loaf of fresh bread in each bag too. Troy Thompson, market sales leader in western Kansas for Bimbo Bakeries USA, is donating 200 loaves of Sara Lee brand bread.

“Those groceries go to the needy, people who need some help, so glad to do that,” said Thompson, noting the bread will come from Bimbo’s bakery in Topeka on Tuesday night and delivered to the Rose Garden on Wednesday morning.

Bimbo’s Hays distribution center on Old Highway 40 serves a 100-mile radius, with products from several brands, including Sara Lee, Orowheat, Thomas bagels and many others.

“I’ve been doing this for, well, this might be the fifth year,” Thompson said, noting like Brooks and others that it was Celebration's former pastor, Kyle Ermoian, who got him started. “I’m blessed to be able to do it.”

Thanksgiving Feast 2019 is from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, and this year, the organizers are expecting about the same number as last year, about 600, said Linda Mills, executive director of First Call for Help, 607 E. 13th St.

The number of delivery orders is running about 82 households, she said, with one or more meals delivered to each one.

“Those have been up,” Mills said. “Last year they were up quite a bit too. I think the word has gotten out better.”

Cut off was Tuesday to sign up for meal delivery or to volunteer, but Mills said it’s possible that anyone wanting to volunteer can show up at the door Thursday and be put to work greeting guests, directing cars, seating diners, or cleaning up.

The meal is free, but anyone attending can make a free-will donation.

Meanwhile, Brooks got a call Monday morning that one woman on Saturday had left her wallet in the grocery bag of food she donated.

“She knew the time she donated it, so we knew it had to be in the second trailer,” Brooks laughed. “We found it.”

Peering into the U-Haul on Monday, Brooks acknowledged, “This is a mess.”

“Almost every year, one of our kids gets the idea, ‘we’re going to organize this,’ and then within the first three or four times they’re like, ‘there’s no way we can do this,’” he said.

Come Thursday morning though, the food will be neatly packed into bags, ready for anyone who needs a sack.

“If they come to the meal and they want a bag, they’re allowed to just take it,” Brooks said. “If they’re going to take a bag, they need groceries.”