Generations of generosity put Thanksgiving meals on bare family tables


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Mandi Verderosa, Amy Worley, board and committee members and fellow volunteers pack Thanksgiving family dinners to fill bare tables in the nonprofit Feed A Family Foundation, Inc. effort launched by Verderosa and Worley’s mother/grandmother, Jeanette Mandala.

photo by Linda Wiggins

It doesn’t take three generations to feed families in need of Thanksgiving dinners with all the trimmings, but it helps.

Mandi Verderosa of Viera and her daughter, Amy Worley, have carried on the tradition started in 2003 by their mother/grandmother, Jeanette Mandala of Suntree, that by Nov. 26 provided 555 families with a savory spread to feed approximately 4,500 people the following Thanksgiving day. The effort is seeking donations and volunteers to double that number next year.

“That’s just who my mother was, always looking for a way to help someone in need,” Verderosa said, tears welling up in her eyes as she spoke about the Suntree pioneer who died in 2009 at the end of a purposeful life. “If she received a call about a clothing drive, she never failed to donate clothing taken right off the hangers from her closet.”

So her friends were not surprised when Mandala often held ladies luncheons but instead of asking them to bring a Christmas gift to exchange, she requested donated household items to auction off to one another. The money raised that very first year provided Thanksgiving dinners for three needy families.

The gatherings soon outgrew the Florida room in Mandala’s condo, and then outgrew the Suntree Country Club, Duran Golf Club’s Tradewinds restaurant and on Nov. 15 overflowed the Indian River Colony Club ballroom.

Several friends, some of whom are now board and committee members of what is now the nonprofit Feed A Family Foundation, Inc., used to deliver meals until the number of family recipients exceeded 100. The organization and its many volunteers grew in size, hosting meal-packing events that moved up through the Suntree Publix, then Viera on Murrell Road, then Rockledge on U.S. 1, and now the large Stadium Parkway store in Viera. Schools ― the needy families identified by counselors ― nonprofits and churches provide the referrals, and come to pick up and disburse the fully cooked and ready to eat holiday meals throughout Brevard County.

Worley, a doctor, acts as auctioneer at the annual events, which now include high-value and unique items collected from businesses by volunteer leaders. She just had a baby, Landon, 6 weeks old, Verderosa’s first grandbaby. He will be the fourth generation of givers. Worley promised. Another of Mandala’s grandsons has started a chapter of the charity in Dallas.

Like Verderosa, Worley credited her mother for influencing her to help others, both as a volunteer and as a medical professional, echoing her mother’s comments.

“That’s just who my mother is, always looking for a way to help someone in need.”

For more information or to help with planning toward the group’s goal of doubling the number of families served, go to feedafamilyfoundation.org or call 321-501-1295.

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