Chief Master Sgt. John Futral, who leads the AFJROTC program, has coordinated the volunteer effort for the last 18 years.
The cadets enlisted the help of other students and feeder schools to fill 150 boxes for families of four full of all the traditional Thanksgiving foods.
In each box, there are cans of corn, green beans, yams, cranberry sauce, soup, fruits, instant potatoes, gravy, a box of stuffing mix, a box of macaroni and cheese, a bag of marshmallows, a box of instant tea, a bag of sugar and cake mix with frosting.
“We try to make it where not only is there enough for their Thanksgiving meal, but they can have some left over for a day or two after,” Futral said.
MUST Ministries, a nonprofit organization that feeds the less fortunate in Cherokee and Cobb counties, additionally provides each family a turkey, rolls and a pie.
Futral, who has been retired from the Air Force for 20 years, said the students look forward to the three full days of checking clients in, carrying boxes and loading cars full of food each year.
“The students get to see a different side of life and the importance of giving back,” Futral said.
Futral said Sequoyah’s feeder schools contributed 49 boxes of food, with 29 of the boxes from Indian Knoll Elementary School, 10 from Holly Springs Elementary School and 10 from Dean Rusk Middle School.
Indian Knoll Principal Ann Gazell said her students have helped with food donations since opening as a school last year and collected 797 cans of food this year.
Gazell said she believes the large amount of donations shows the commitment of the community to help one another.
“I have found the Indian Knoll parents and community to be one of the most generous groups of people I have ever had the pleasure and honor to work with,” Gazell said. “This activity helps children to understand that there are families that are less fortunate and that we can all work together to make their lives better.”
Working together is no small feat for the cadets, as they are responsible for getting food to almost 1,000 families registered for the program.
On Monday alone, the students distributed food to 327 people throughout the day. With volunteers helping from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., that’s more than one client per minute.
Jenny Homan, MUST holiday coordinator, said she didn’t know what to expect coming into this week, since this is her first year with the nonprofit.
“These guys just came in and took over,” she said. “It’s great. They realize that a lot of these people might not have Thanksgiving without their help. They come back (from delivering food) in tears and that says it all.”
MUST Program Director Kim Loesing commended Futral and the students for their hard work and seamless delivery.
“They’re trained to work together,” Loesing said. “It surprises me each year that they are willing to give up their vacation time.”
Christine Shearer, daughter of Katie and Steve Shearer of Canton, spent Monday through Wednesday volunteering with her 14-year-old brother Johnny Shearer, also a cadet in the program.
Christine, a junior, said each of her seven siblings have participated in AFJROTC and volunteered with MUST almost every year, just as she plans to do.
“It’s like a tradition,” the 17-year-old said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Last year, Christine said one of the MUST clients got in a fender-bender just as he was leaving with his food. Another cadet asked each of his classmates for whatever money they had so the man could pay the other driver for repairs, she said.
“A bunch of us helped pay him so he didn’t have to give all of his money,” Shearer said. “Things like that make me feel like I’m doing something worth my time that’s much bigger than myself.”
Fifteen-year-old Sukie Jules, daughter of Nicole Pierre of Canton, said the hugs and thank-yous make her want to keep coming back.
“I’m crying,” Sukie said, as she returned from putting a box of food in a woman’s vehicle. “I just got a big hug from a lady. Life is totally worth living right now.”
Futral said he coordinates the program each year not only to help the needy, but to give his students a life-changing experience.
“Kids have big hearts when you let them,” Futral said. “Just let them have a chance to have a big heart.”