This year, the United Way had more than 1,200 volunteers representing 105 teams doing 156 projects for 72 nonprofit agencies and schools in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties.

MILTON — All the way in the back of the Feeding the Gulf Coast’s huge storage facility, volunteers from Gulf Power and the Santa Rosa County Young Professionals created an assembly line Friday to cram boxes with cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie filling and other foods for Thanksgiving meals for 800 needy families.

When the holiday finally arrives, the families will also have their choice of turkey or ham and fresh collard greens, sweet potatoes, squash and other vegetables from a local farm.

They won’t go hungry this year, thanks to Feeding the Gulf Coast and volunteers for United Way’s 27th annual Day of Caring.

David Shell usually sits behind a desk doing marketing and sales for Gulf Power, but has become a Day of Caring veteran. The 56-year-old was taping up boxes to hold the variety of cans and boxes of food.

“It’s great to get out of the office and know you’re helping your community,” Shell said. “I enjoy doing it every year.”

This year, the United Way had more than 1,200 volunteers representing 105 teams doing 156 projects for 72 nonprofit agencies and schools in Santa Rosa and Escambia counties. It was a special Day of Caring because United Way was serving both counties for the first time.

That meant a lot to Tasha Reeder, a 34-year-old Milton native, who stacked the boxes of food donations.

“I like being able to help my neighbors who otherwise wouldn’t have a good Thanksgiving,” said Reeder, a member of Santa Rosa County Young Professionals.

It also pleased Kyle Schoolar with Feeding the Gulf Coast to have so many helpers, thanks to United Way.

"This is a heavy lift we couldn't do without so many volunteers," Schoolar said.

Other Day of Caring projects included gardening, painting, a free legal clinic, playing games and picnicking with seniors, reading books to young children, organizing clothing, framing a Habitat for Humanity home, restoring coastal habitats and many other activities.

Trudy O’Brien, a Capstone Academy assistant, called the work done by PACE Center for Girls invaluable.

“It doesn’t sound glamorous, but washing and sanitizing the toys for our 4-year-olds means a lot,” O’Brien said. “It gives our teachers a break.”

Makayla Webb, 15, and 16-year-old Kenshara Robinson expressed excitement at the volunteer work.

“It’s a way of giving thanks to the people who help us,” Makayla said.

Added Robinson: “I feel good about giving back.”