Operation Paying It Forward, in partnership with Feeding Plant City and Frontline Community Services, is hosting a Thanksgiving Food Drive until Nov. 23 to collect food for families in need.
Every year, Operation Paying It Forward steps up to the plate to make sure that local families have a happy and stress-free holiday.
This year is no different and the organization is heading into the home stretch of its Thanksgiving Food Drive. Partnering with Feeding Plant City and Frontline Community Services, its goal is to help local families have food to put on their tables this Thanksgiving. The groups are collecting nonperishable food items until Nov. 23 at three different drop-off locations.
“Every year we always do a turkey or a food drive,” Michelle Valdes, president of Operation Paying It Forward, said. “Last year we turned in almost 1,200 pounds of turkey meat to the Food Bank and I believe there were close to 300 people fed. This year we wanted to give back to the community again so anything we can collect, any nonperishable food item, will really go a long way. Whatever extra food we collect, we will continue to give out until Christmas.”
While Thanksgiving-themed food items like cranberry sauce, green beans or stuffing are highly encouraged, any nonperishable food item is welcome. The group is also collecting monetary donations to buy turkeys. You can give any amount and it will go toward buying a large bulk of turkeys that will be distributed to those in need.
Valdes may have only officially started Operation Paying It Forward in 2018, but her life’s focus on giving back to others is many years in the making. She said her life changed in 2005 when her mother died from cancer. Valdes was at her lowest and her therapist told her that she needed to focus on bringing some good into the world just like her mother always had. Thus began her passion for random acts of kindness.
It started small. she’d buy a stranger a tank of gas or cover someone’s grocery bill. Then word spread and her humble, yet virtuous lifestyle began to make ripples through the community. In 2011 she helped get a local child in a wheelchair a “power chair” so he could follow his dream of racing about with few limitations. The boy’s family broke down in tears at the surprise gesture and Valdes knew this was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
A few years later the idea evolved into a 501(c)3 non-profit, and since its creation it has gone above and beyond what the community originally expected, helping others in ways few would ever think to lend a hand.
Valdes attributes it to a simple philosophy: Operation Paying It Forward helps you where you need it, not just simply where you’re at. Sometimes someone needs help with an electric bill. Sometimes they need help getting new tires for the sole family vehicle they use to get to work. Many nonprofits have tight restrictions on where they are allowed to give their money, but Operation Paying It Forward aims to cut to the heart of the current problem.
For the holidays, however, the need tends to remain consistent. Families struggle to get food on the table, to buy gifts for their children for Christmas and help embrace the magic of the season so many of us take for granted. Several organizations around town are waging their own fights against this ever-present issue and Operation Paying It Forward hopes to lend a hand in the ongoing battle to ensure everyone in need has food on their table.
“I know what it is growing up not to have food on the table and what it means to not have a gallon of milk in the fridge or even a can of something you can open and eat,” Valdes said. “I know that the struggle is real — I came from the struggle. I think that’s part of why I’m so determined to do this every year. It’s personal for me and, well, I don’t think I can fully explain how much it means to me that I’m at a place in my life now where I can give back.”
Usually Valdes spends every waking hour of her Thanksgiving holiday in the car delivering food to families. She’ll often be on the roads long into the night. This year, thanks to her partnership with Frontline and Feeding Plant City, she’ll be able to handle the collections while the other groups handle delivery.
And there’s already a list of families waiting to receive the special deliveries.
“There’s definitely people out there that go unseen and who are unspoken and need help, but are too prideful to ask,” Valdes said. “And I have no problem being humble and reaching out to them and letting them know that I’ve been there and starting over is hard, but possible. If I can help I’m going to help, and if I can’t get help I will find someone who can. There is no shame in needing a little bit of assistance. I truly believe if one person every day did one good thing, the world would be a better place. I know that sounds so political, but I’ve been saying it for so long.”
There are three businesses accepting the donations: Tint Plus at 2711 Airport Road, Grace Manor at 765 W. Grant St. and OnPoint IT Solutions at 1805 James L. Redman Pkwy. You can donate any nonperishable food item you have until 5 p.m. Nov. 23. If you need to make a donation outside of business hours, Valdes said you simply need to call and they’ll find a way to get someone to meet you.
For more information, call Alice Bullard at 813-418-0181.
If you participate
What: Operation Paying It Forward & Feeding Plant City Food Drive
When: Ongoing until 5 p.m. Nov. 23
Drop-Off Locations: Tint Plus, 2711 Airport Road; Grace Manor, 765 W. Grant St.; and OnPoint IT Solutions, 1805 James L. Redman Pkwy.
Need: Rice, pasta, bread, canned vegetables, stuffing, canned fruits, etc. Monetary donations are greatly appreciated to purchase turkeys.
Facebook: Operation Paying It Forward