Southern and Eastern Kentucky residents opened their hearts to help make the recent Thanksgiving holiday a bit brighter for many struggling families.

More than 10.3 tons of food was collected in food drives conducted by UNITE Service Corps (AmeriCorps) members and student members of school UNITE Clubs as part of the annual “Make A Difference Day.”

“This is the highest total in our food drive project history,” said Eugene Newsome, director of the UNITE Service Corps initiative. “I am amazed at the response from every community and am very proud of effort our Service Corps members and UNITE Club students put into this project.”

Collected food – enough to feed 41,255 people in need an 8-ounce serving – was donated to Family Resource and Youth Service Centers, community charitable groups and/or church pantries in the communities where the food was collected.

Newsome said that Majestic Elementary in Pike County, a school with just 147 students, collected enough food to give every child’s family a food basket that included a turkey.

UNITE’s Service Corps finished fourth among Kentucky’s AmeriCorps programs in a competition sponsored by the Kentucky Commission on Community and Volunteer Service (KCCVS), but that was with only 54 percent of the food collected counted.

“The competition officially ended on the fourth Saturday of October,” Newsome noted. “Many of our schools continued their food collection drives until the week of Thanksgiving.”

Make A Difference Day, created by USA Weekend magazine, is one of the most widely observed national days of helping – a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors in which everyone can participate.

The goal of Make A Difference Day is to inspire and encourage local residents to participate in community service projects. Large or small, as individuals or in groups, one-day or ongoing – the nature of the service isn’t as important as simply giving your time, effort, resources, skills or support to make a difference in the lives of people in your community.