The gymnasium at Troy Howard Middle School was buzzing with activity early Saturday morning as throngs of volunteers came together for the annual Heroes 4 Hunger event, to pack and distribute 1,125 food boxes to needy area families for the holidays.

The food distribution is sponsored by Waldo Community Action Partners, a multi-service agency committed to addressing hunger in Waldo County since 1965.

Community Partners Director Tabitha Lowe was unsure how long the program has been helping families, but said she would estimate 15 to 20 years.

"This year we distributed 910 boxes for Thanksgiving and will distribute 1,125 boxes for Christmas," she said.

Around 250 volunteers started filling boxes assembly-line style at 6 a.m. On one side of the tables, people pushed boxes to different stations along the line, at each stop adding an essential part of the holiday meal. The coordinated effort took until approximately  7:25 a.m. to fill all the boxes.

Community Partnerships Coordinator Amanda Simmons said they had more volunteers this year for the Christmas event than last year, and they "hope to continue to grow the number of volunteers for next season and get the word out to more people."

Why start so early in the morning?

Lowe said it was at the request of municipal volunteers from as far away as Burnham, who like to "get working first thing."

The complete package contained a turkey, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, green beans, peas, potatoes, onions, squash, apples, muffins and a pie.

The food box program is free with no income requirements. People can fill out an application at WCAP offices, through their child's school, or at their town office.

After all the boxes are filled, community volunteers and local municipal personnel, including volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers, deliver them to their respective towns. Boxes are then picked up by families or delivered to those who are unable to do so.

Lowe said all of the food is purchased with funds from community donations.

"It costs $65,000 each year to purchase the food for both Thanksgiving and Christmas," she said. "We work with local grocery stores from Waldo County to purchase the food wholesale. Each box costs approximately $30."

Lowe said donations can be made to WCAP Heroes 4 Hunger campaign online at waldocap.org via PayPal or by check at P.O. Box 130, Belfast, ME 04915. Donations are tax-deductible.