Mozel Sanders Foundation celebrates 50th year, serves 1 millionth Thanksgiving meal to Indy mom of 8

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INDIANAPOLIS — A tradition spanning 50 years continued Thursday in Indianapolis as the Mozel Sanders Foundation served Thanksgiving meals to Hoosiers in need.

For the second year in a row, they haven’t been able to operate out of Atherton Hall at Butler University due to COVID and social distancing restrictions, but even despite that, area churches and kitchens stepped up to pitch in and make sure no Hoosiers went hungry.

“This is Hoosier hospitality. We are all doing something and if each one would feed one, everyone would be fed,” said Stephanie Sanders, chief operating officer of the Mozel Sanders Foundation.

The organization typically serves between 20,000 to 40,000 meals every year on Thanksgiving. This year, operations were scaled back a bit due to restrictions, but 10,000 meals were still served by volunteers that gathered at three locations to prepare the meals.

“We’ve had to adjust. We used to do this over at Butler and then we would deliver to families,” said Indy Mayor Joe Hogsett, who has long volunteered during the Thanksgiving effort.

“Our goal is not to have a hungry child anywhere in Marion County and on days like today, to not have a hungry family anywhere in Marion County,” said Hogsett.

Meals were prepared for delivery or pickup, with 15 area restaurants and churches, and more than 700 volunteers pitching in to make the effort possible of feeding people across the city.

“I have delivered many meals during the years that I’ve been involved, and it brings tears to your eyes because you don’t realize how much you are thankful for,” said Michael Ruggiero, a board member and volunteer with the foundation.

The organization was started 50 years ago when Reverend Mozel Sanders saw people working outside of his church on Thanksgiving Day, with no food. He began to serve his neighbors and from there, the effort took off.

This year, the Mozel Sanders Foundation hit a major milestone, delivering its 1 millionth meal to a family that lives on Indianapolis’ near north side.

“You are the one millionth meal after 50 years,” Ruggiero said as he helped deliver the boxes. “It’s a beautiful day for all of us. We have a lot to be thankful for.”

Volunteers brought the packaged meals to Nicole Gonzalez and her eight children, who expressed their gratitude for the efforts that helped their family this Thanksgiving.

“I teach my kids to be grateful for everything. So, you know, they know when I buy stuff compared to when we’re helped with stuff and I teach them they need to be grateful for everything,” said Gonzalez.

She said it brings her hope to see the good in the community and the people who are lending a helping hand this holiday season.

“I’m always excited to eat with my kids, to spend time with them. We’re very grateful. I’m grateful I have all of my blessings,” said Gonzalez.

Organizers, city and state leaders said food insecurity has long been a challenge in Indianapolis and across the Hoosier state, but that need has been worsened by the pandemic over the last few years.

“There’s always been a need for greater food access for residents of our city. That was exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Hogsett, who said long-term, the city will dedicate a ‘considerable’ amount of American Rescue Plan dollars to food access, food nutrition, food availability, and food security.

“This is an all-hands-on deck, you know. As much progress as we were making, we took a couple steps back over the last couple of years,” said Gov. Eric Holcomb, citing the impacts of the pandemic.

“I find that such a need that poverty is increasing and it’s not just in Indianapolis but it’s increasing across the country,” said Doctor Virginia Caine, director of the Marion County Public Health Department.

While the need continues and local and state leaders said they will continue to address food insecurity, it’s organizations like the Mozel Sanders Foundation taking crucial steps to make sure no Hoosier goes hungry, especially on a holiday.

Here is a look at the amount of food that was provided to families this Thanksgiving by the Mozel Sanders Foundation:

  • Turkey: 3,750 lbs.
  • Dressing: 3,125 lbs.
  • Green Beans: 500 cans (10 lbs. each)
  • Gravy: 312 gallons
  • Dinner Rolls: 20,000

“There’s a lot of glimmers of hope and confidence that we’re gonna continue to make progress, but there’s people in need, there’s no question about it,” said Holcomb.

If you would like to help the Mozel Sanders Foundation, you can donate through their website or by texting “Mozel” to 313131.

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