‘This is such a blessing:’ Heart of Florida United Way distributes 1,800 Thanksgiving meals

Meal kits handed out to families in Orange, Osceola, Seminole counties

United Way event gives away 1,800 Thanksgiving meals

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heart of Florida United Way is making sure struggling families across Central Florida have a Thanksgiving feast this year.

The non-profit held its third annual Thanksgiving Project on Saturday. Volunteers distributed 1,800 Thanksgiving meal kits to families in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.

[TRENDING: Blast of cold set to arrive in Central Florida just before Thanksgiving | How Florida’s special session impacts you | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

More than 18,000 pounds of Thanksgiving meal items were assembled and distributed by nearly 600 volunteers.

President and CEO Jeff Hayward said the families were going home with everything they needed for a holiday feast.

“We’re including the pan, the stuffing, the pie, the potatoes, everything that you would need to treat your family to a Thanksgiving meal,” Hayward said.

Hayward said the need is still great more than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic. He adds for the first time there is a waiting list of families hoping to take home the free meals.

“We know the need grew. We know it’s still there. Not everyone is back to work yet and it’s indicative of the waiting list,” Hayward said.

Hayward adds this year it was difficult to get some of the Thanksgiving staples.

“We used to give pumpkin pies. This year we had to go to apple cobbler, which I’m an apple pie fan myself, but it was supply and demand issue. We could not get pumpkin pies,” he said.

It’s not just supplies. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the cost of Thanksgiving feasts is higher. The average price is up 14% from last year. Among the increases includes turkey, which is up 24%, pumpkin pie mix, which is up 7%, and sweet potatoes, which are up 4%.

For the families, many said they are grateful for the free meals, including Elizabeth Lyons. She said it’s been a tough year and this food will help bring her family together for the holidays.

“This is such a blessing, like you guys just don’t understand how much this means. I’m trying not to tear up,” Lyons said. “Thank you so much. You guys are just awesome!”

Click here for more information on Heart of Florida United Way.

Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:

Use the form below to sign up for the ClickOrlando.com Florida Foodie newsletter, sent every other Wednesday.