With less than a week before Thanksgiving, a group of Denison Independent School District students spent their Friday morning at a local food pantry where they assembled and distributed holiday meal baskets to those who needed a little extra help in getting food on the table this year.

Students from Denison High School and Scott Middle School descended on Helping Hands food pantry and filled brown bags with all the Thanksgiving dinner staples, including whole turkeys, mashed potatoes, vegetables, bread and desserts. The young volunteers assembled nearly 200 meal baskets, which are expected to feed more than 500 people.

“I think we have to remember that while there are things we can easily get, you know, a turkey, the side dishes and all that food, there are other families and other people who can't,” DHS senior Dani Bucher said. “So it's really important that we help those people out like this when we can.”

Bucher said she and her classmates did a little bit of everything in their time at the pantry, including shuttling turkeys between the freezer and recipients' cars, filling bags with dry and canned goods and sorting through other donated items. The high school senior also pointed out that students from across the district helped donate and collect some 26,000 cans as part of this year's Battle of the Ax canned food drive.

“I think all of this really shows the character of all the students who are helping,” Bucher said.

Helping Hands Executive Director Tammie Overturf said the annual help of Denison ISD students allows the pantry to accomplish its goal of getting food to those in need, but she said the day of volunteer service also allowed the students to see the impact of their efforts.

“They actually have this unique perspective where they can see the fruition of their work,” Overturf said. “They get to see these people, help them out to their car, converse with them and see how grateful and appreciate the folks on the receiving end are.”

Overturf explained that many Grayson County residents don't know where their next meal is coming from, a predicament fueled by lower incomes and the rural nature of area communities.

“In Grayson County, 22 percent of people are classified as food insecure,” she said. “We're higher than Texas and the national average. That means anywhere from one in four to one in six children in this area are food insecure.”

The pantry director said while the issue of food insecurity will likely persist for some time, the combined efforts of the students and pantry would go a long way in helping families find stability during the busy holiday season.

“We do tremendous things with the resources we have,” Overturf said. “And this is a prime example of the community coming together to help out some neighbors.”