When Marty Eckhardt began coordinating the Davis Fire Department’s Thanksgiving food basket program in 1988, the effort involved feeding 25 local families with the fixings for a traditional turkey dinner.
As the years went by, the program grew steadily, serving as many as 750 families at its peak. About 650 families were recipients on Wednesday — Eckhardt’s final year as its coordinator.
“After 24, years it’s time to move on,” said Eckhardt, who is handing the reins over to fellow firefighter Luis Parrilla.
“I’ll still be here and I’ll still participate,” Eckhardt said. “I’m happy to be passing this along to someone else, but it’s going to feel different not being in the middle of it.”
The Fire Department’s food basket program dates back to Thanksgiving 1986, when, according to local legend, a mother and her children knocked on the door of the downtown fire station, hungry and pleading for food.
The crew on duty that day pooled their money to buy the family a meal, and an annual tradition was born.
“It’s just grown and grown and grown. We could probably buy 1,000 and get rid of them all,” Eckhardt said Wednesday morning as firefighters embarked on another popular pastime — bringing their families to assemble baskets at the downtown station, where basket recipients began forming a line at about 7 a.m.
Despite a still-sluggish economy, the firefighters’ union, Local 3494, was able to collect $15,000 toward the food purchase, thanks to two “fill the boot” drives as well as a fundraiser held by DeVere’s Irish Pub. Davis Waste Removal also made a generous donation, as it has since the early 1990s.
Eckhardt also credited Safeway for offering discounts on the food, and Sacramento Coca-Cola for delivering the goods to the fire station free of charge.
“The community comes through every year for us, and we couldn’t thank them enough,” he said.
For area community groups whose clients benefit from the food baskets, the feeling is mutual.
“They are living on a pretty low income, or no income, so coming up with money to buy a turkey is a strain to a budget that’s already tight,” said Bill Pride, executive director of Davis Community Meals. “It’s certainly a wonderful program. They’ve always been extremely generous, and the baskets are very much appreciated.”
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene