Thanksgiving: The Lancaster Way of Giving

Meghan and Jose, Founders of Character's Pub

Meghan Young grew up in Lancaster County and attended schools in the city of Lancaster. Despite leaving the area to attend culinary school in Baltimore, then working as a chef in London and New York City, Lancaster was always home.

So when she returned to the area in 2011 with her business partner Jose Fuentes to purchase Character’s Pub, she wanted to make sure she could give back to the community that has always been an important part of her life.

To that end, Character’s Pub has teamed up with the Power Packs Project, a local nonprofit, to provide Thanksgiving dinner for about 270 people (about 60 families). So Thanksgiving morning, Meghan, Jose, their staff, and a team of volunteers will be at the restaurant at 6 a.m. preparing turkey, stuffing, and everything else that most of us consider to be a part of a typical Thanksgiving feast.  For some of those receiving these meals, it means they might be experiencing this type of Thanksgiving, at home with their families, for the first time ever.

Power Packs Project works with food insecure kids and families throughout local school districts. Thousands of kids in the area get free breakfast and lunch at their schools because of their family’s economic situation. The Power Packs Project aims to improve the mental and physical health of the children in the program by helping their parents provide nutritious meals over weekends when the school breakfast and lunch programs are unavailable to them.

Meghan says that it was a natural fit to partner with Power Packs, because her business and the organization share two core philosophies: “We both believe that everyone has the right to healthy and nutritious food, and helping and supporting our neighbors will in turn sustain our community.”

She was overwhelmed by the support from local individuals and businesses who stepped up to donate money and much of the food that was needed for this year’s campaign which is serving food insecure kids who attend two of the city’s elementary schools.

Power Packs founder and board President Joan Espenshade is thrilled that Meghan and Character’s came forward.

“We worry about our families over long weekends and holidays,” she says. “We know it puts a strain on the family food budget when the kids are home. And then for them to try to do a memorable holiday meal for their family, it uses up the entire food budget.”

“There are many reasons why families need Power Packs,” she adds. “For one of our participating families, the mother is battling cancer. Her husband left a full-time job to care for her. Dad welcomes Power Packs food and recipes as he learns how to stretch their limited food dollars and provide healthy meals for his family.”

Joan also tells the story of another new family whose mother left an abusive relationship and is struggling to make ends meet for herself and her two daughters.

“Power Packs is so thankful for the generous donation of time and food that Character’s is making,” she says. “It will mean that many families will be able to enjoy a memorable holiday meal with loved ones. I smile when I think of what memories the children will have of this meal!”

And this is just the beginning.

While working at restaurants in NYC, Meghan helped to organize an annual event which involved feeding about 4,000 people on Thanksgiving through Meals on Wheels. While her efforts this year are a fraction of that, she hopes that this will become an annual Lancaster tradition, with more restaurants coming on board each year, and that they will eventually be able to prepare meals for the families of every student affiliated with Power Packs within the school district of Lancaster.

When for-profits team with nonprofits for the betterment of the community, everyone wins.

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