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story.lead_photo.caption Tim Mathis of Springdale helps load boxes of food into a truck Saturday during the Kiwanis Club of Bentonville's Guy Wilkerson Christmas Food Basket Giveaway at the former Jump Zone on Southeast 22nd Street in Bentonville. The Kiwanis, with help from other community groups, handed out more than 500 boxes of food to those in need. - Photo by Ben Goff

BENTONVILLE -- The early Saturday morning snowfall didn't keep volunteers or those in need of Christmas meal supplies away from the Kiwanis Club's 63rd Guy Wilkerson Food Basket Giveaway.

Photo by Ben Goff
David Johnson, volunteering with a group from Trail Life USA troop AR-0052 of Bentonville, and William Geiger, 10, of Centerton help distribute boxes of food Saturday during the Kiwanis Club of Bentonville’s Guy Wilkerson Christmas Food Basket Giveaway.

The line wasn't as long as usual around 8 a.m. when the giveaway got underway and club president Bobby Smittle said he was growing a little bit concerned. But families kept steadily driving up to the 22nd Street location and, in a couple of hours, all of the 500-plus boxes of food were gone.

"How many do you need?" a volunteer said as another car rolled up.

The driver said she had six in her family and four in a family she was picking up for.

"Blue and red right here!" the volunteer shouted.

Two of the 65 volunteers grabbed the boxes stuffed with canned and boxed goods, bread, potatoes, a chicken and sweets. They loaded them in the trunk of the car with a "Merry Christmas" and a "Have a blessed day," while others carried more boxes out from inside the old Jump Zone building -- working as a well-oiled, cheery machine.

All ages were out to lend a hand, many individuals and groups having made the giveaway a holiday tradition.

The city's Trail Life USA troop arrived with a handful of boys ready to work. Troopmaster Keith Smith said they have been participating since 2003, when they were still part of the Boy Scouts.

"It's a great opportunity for them to get service hours, but more importantly it's a great opportunity during the Christmas holiday to help people that don't have as much as you," Smith said. "It's a great learning experience and the boys really enjoy."

Smittle, now president of the Bentonville Kiwanis Club, started volunteering at the giveaway with his high school's Key Club in 1975.

Back then, Guy Wilkerson was running the show. Wilkerson died in 2013 and the event was named in his honor.

"He was always faithful that it got done," Smittle said.

Wilkerson began the giveaway in 1955, delivering the first 15 baskets to families in need around Bentonville.

Bob Sligar, current giveaway chairman, said they now serve more than 500 families who come from around Northwest Arkansas. Sligar said they help anyone who drives or walks up.

Smittle said, "the whole goal of this is to make sure every family in Bentonville and the surrounding area has a good Christmas dinner."

Bentonville resident Jabina Antolok was first in line around 6 a.m. She heard about the giveaway this year at the church downtown. She has three children and one on the way and lives with her husband and brother. Antolok said she just needed a little extra help with Christmas to prepare a good meal for her family.

Kayla Church helped direct traffic as the sun crept up Saturday morning. Church said she has been helping with the giveaway for six years, since she was in junior high.

Church said that some people feel embarrassed about being in line and asking for something they need. Church said she has seen the strain that a loss of a family member -- or job or other difficult situation -- can put on a family around the holidays.

"We get to touch a lot of people's lives. No one makes you feel judged. No one makes you feel like you shouldn't be here," Church said. "That's what's beautiful about the Bentonville community. If someone needs something, someone else is there to lend a hand."

NW News on 12/24/2017

Print Headline: Kiwanis Club, volunteers give away more than 500 Christmas food baskets

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