It's become a tradition at Rowland Hall before Christmas break.
Students line up, one by one, from the curb to the cafeteria. Trucks pull up from Crossroads Urban Center's Emergency Food Pantry and start unloading first dry goods, then, the next morning, turkeys and hams.
The food passes down the line, each student touching every bag, until the Rowland Hall cafeteria is filled to capacity. Two days later, all of it is gone.
Since 1995, it's a yearly ritual that Service Learning Director Liz Paige calls sobering.
"To see that quantity of food and know that, in the following days, it's all going to be consumed by families in need is an amazing feeling," Paige said. "You feel grateful for what you have and that your family isn't necessarily in the same situation."
This Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the tradition begins again. For 17 years, Crossroads Urban Center and Rowland Hall have united to provide Christmas baskets for needy families. This year, the group plans to provide more than 1,400 holiday food bags stuffed with cranberry sauce, yams, potatoes, fresh fruit and fresh meat.
Glen Bailey, executive director at Crossroads Urban Center, is thankful for the help. The center is in an old, red brick house in downtown Salt Lake City. Inside the glass front doors, volunteers scurry to help load cardboard boxes for families every weekday. Donated food is loaded in the basement with an old-fashioned dumbwaiter. The center feeds around 80 families a day; it isn't anywhere near large enough to feed 1,400.
"It's critical," Bailey said. "We can't run this place without our partnerships. And it doesn't end with just the one event. Dozens and dozens of families from Rowland Hall learn about Crossroads. A lot of people get fed, a lot of people get to volunteer and feel good at Christmastime, and a lot of people hear about Crossroads. It helps us all the way around."
Along with assisting with the Christmas baskets, Rowland Hall holds an annual Thanksgiving food drive. This year alone, Rowland Hall students contributed 13,937 pounds of food for the pantry an average of 26 pounds per student.
Still, Paige said, the donations are indirect. The real value to volunteers comes from the tangibility of the food and being able to see the faces of the families they are helping during the Christmas Basket giveaway.
"The students are able to have real conversations as they help carry bags out," Paige said. "It breaks down stereotypes about who is really in need. It helps the students and parents realize we're in this together we all have a responsibility to act."
Time to give
The Christmas Basket Giveaway will be Dec. 22 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Rowland Hall School, 970 E. 800 South, Salt Lake City.
Around 400 volunteers, including Gov. Gary Herbert, will help with distribution.
Crossroads Urban Center is always in need of donations throughout the year. Bailey specifically mentioned the need for baby formula, especially soy baby formula.