MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- More than 600 volunteers started their Sunday long before sunrise in Maryville, packing up food and toys for those struggling this holiday season.
It's called the Empty Pantry Fund - and this year the Blount County non-profit is giving 1400 families enough foood for a week. The food baskets include everything from canned goods to fresh fruit and vegetables.
"What it means is that during Christmastime, there's a lot of financial burden on people. So what it means is, it gives them some excess money that they'd normally spend on groceries and they can turn around and maybe buy gifts for their family members, or their kids or their husband or their wife. And then for those that truly don't have anything, it gives them hot meals on their plate," said Lon Fox, president of the Empty Pantry Fund board of directors.
700 of the families are also getting toys for their children.
"For some of these kids, this is their Christmas. And when we go to the door, they're waiting for us because they know we're coming. So that's the greatest feeling in the world, knowing that you're putting a smile on the kids' faces," said Leslie Wilkerson, with the Blount County Junior Service League.
Those receiving the food and presents said it means the world to them:
"It helps out a whole lot, it really does. And it's highly appreciated," said Gracie Cotner, as volunteers dropped off her food basket.
Despite the rain and early morning wakeup call, volunteers said the hard work is well worth it.
"It is a truly humbling experience when you can take something as simple as food stuffs to people who are truly, truly grateful to receive it. Just the gratitude that comes from those people, it really warms you," said Sean Parker, a volunteer.
Organizers said community members make the Empty Pantry Fund possible by donating money to buy food and presents.
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