COVENTRY — With less than two weeks to go before Thanksgiving, the Coventry High School Navy Junior ROTC has partnered with a local fitness center in an effort to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy a festive meal.
On Saturday, the cadets will join Sweatshop Fitness in hosting a drive-by food drive at Coventry High School to benefit Project Hand Up.
“Every can counts,” said Dottie Jackvony, who’s been volunteering with the NJROTC since her sons were part of the unit. “The more that the cadets collect, the more we can help.”
The donations collected will help feed hundreds of local families on Thanksgiving.
The number of families served by Project Hand Up weekly has skyrocketed since the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020. Every week, Coreen St. Jean said, the nonprofit serves some 400 families — and sometimes more than that — from West Warwick, Coventry and beyond.
“It seems like every week it just gets busier and busier,” said St. Jean, who founded Project Hand Up in West Warwick in 2017.
Heidi Audet, owner of Sweatshop Fitness, said she believes strongly in Project Hand Up’s mission. Having had to close the Sandy Bottom Road fitness center at the start of the pandemic, Audet said she threw herself into volunteering for the organization.
“The need is growing more and more,” she said.
“I just think that this [food drive] is going to be absolutely amazing for our community.”
St. Jean said she expects to distribute Thanksgiving meals to at least 400 families this year — and for the last month, the organization has been running its own food drive to prepare for it.
Project Hand Up, which invites people to stock up on grocery items for a small donation, receives a lot of its inventory from places like Ocean State Job Lot, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Roch’s Fresh Foods. But despite those regular donations, Thanksgiving food has been scarce this year, St. Jean said.
“We’re really having a hard time getting what we need,” she said.
Turkeys, especially, have been hard to come by.
In addition to frozen turkeys, items needed include cranberry sauce, instant mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, canned vegetables and boxed stuffing. Turkey seasoning, pie crust and filling, mushroom soup, crispy fried onions and canned fruits are also listed as needed items.
Gift cards would be helpful, as well, St. Jean said.
St. Jean said she’s grateful for the NJROTC and Sweatshop Fitness for their support of Project Hand Up and the families that it serves.
“I think they’re absolutely fabulous,” she said of the cadets. “I think [their food drive] will be very successful.”
Food can be dropped off at Coventry High School this Saturday, Nov. 13, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. People dropping off items should pull up to the side door that faces the track and football field, and cadets will collect the donations — there’s no need to leave the vehicle.