Hudson - A collection started nine years ago to feed people in need has grown from 42 baskets in 2003 to more than 900 last month, with 172 of those driven to Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey.
Members of Christ Community Chapel in Hudson filled 957 baskets with frozen turkey, potatoes, pies and a cornucopia of Thanksgiving side dishes in November.
"It's an amazing, amazing story of how God has directed this ministry, and we give Him all the credit," said Judi Dalton, who along with her husband, Scott, started the tradition in 2003. "We are very big in local outreach and our local, this time, got all the way to New Jersey."
Dalton called the effort to feed those in need this year "an amazing display of faithfulness from our congregation."
In 2003, Dalton and another church member were trying to find something the church could do at Thanksgiving to help the "less fortunate," she said. They provided congregation members with lists of items to be placed in baskets to be given to people in need.
"We started putting the meals in paper bags and boxes, which worked wonderfully until the first year we had rain and the bottom fell out of the boxes," Dalton said.
The church then used laundry baskets, which worked well until there were so many deliveries that the baskets had to be stacked on top of each other.
"At that point, my husband and I were doing all the deliveries," Dalton said. "One time we made a delivery and the woman was pregnant. She said 'I don't have a bassinet, I can use [the laundry basket] at the beginning.'"
After about three years and a few squashed pies later, the couple found 18-gallon plastic containers, which the church uses now.
During the first week of November, congregation members are given containers, without a lid, and a list. The Monday before Thanksgiving, those who have taken the containers and other volunteers assemble the items for distribution.
"It's just an amazing outpouring of love," Dalton said.
The baskets are given out instead of gift cards because it is more "meaningful."
"I think when a family actually goes out and buys the baskets and the items to put in it, it makes it much more meaningful," Michael Ammirati said.
The church exceeded its goal of 700 baskets with participation from its campuses in Hudson, Aurora, Stow and the Highland Square area of Akron.
John Schott, who attends the church, is originally from New Jersey. He loaded up a truck with baskets and drove the almost 400 miles to New Jersey with his daughter, Olivia, and delivered the baskets to different agencies.
Schott said the credit should go to each church member who volunteered to purchase the items and put the baskets together.
"I just had the privilege to drive for them," Schott said.
The donations reminded Schott of a variety of versus in the Bible, he said.
"Faith leads to sharing, which leads to faith for more people, which leads to an increase in gratitude and thanksgiving," he said.