Handing out holiday cheer: Whirlpool, PGA donate 400 hams and turkeys to area residents

Harbor Mayor James Hightower, left, and Mayor-elect Marcus Muhammad pass out turkeys Wednesday afternoon at Dwight P. Mitchell Park in Benton Harbor. City officials, in collaboration with the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, Senior PGA Championship and Whirlpool Corp., handed out 400 hams and turkeys to those in need. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower, left, and Mayor-elect Marcus Muhammad pass out turkeys Wednesday afternoon at Dwight P. Mitchell Park in Benton Harbor. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Hundreds stood in line a few feet behind a large truck Wednesday, which was parked in the middle of Dwight P. Mitchell Park and packed with 400 hams and turkeys.

In an attempt to supply Benton Harbor residents with food and holiday cheer, a partnership was formed between the city, the Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency, the Senior PGA Championship and Whirlpool Corp.

Benton Harbor Mayor-elect Marcus Muhammad, who was sworn into office Monday and assumes duties Jan. 1, came up with the idea of giving away the hams and turkeys after contacting Whirlpool and the Senior PGA organizers.

“They both agreed to work with the city in making these traditional holiday items available to deserving families in our community,” Muhammad said. “I believe today is a perfect example of how working in partnership helps to improve our community by helping to brighten the holiday for families and their loved ones.”

The Senior PGA Championship, along with Whirlpool, paid for the 200 turkeys and 200 hams. Volunteers from SMCAA, Whirlpool and the city of Benton Harbor were present to hand out the food items.

The not-for-profit Community Action Agency ordered the food through Hardings in St. Joseph and arranged for the giveaway.

“Every other year since 2012, this community has welcomed visitors from around the world to witness and experience some of the best golf played anywhere,” said Ryan Ogle, PGA tournament director. “Today is but one of many ways in which all of us associated with this outstanding tournament can show our appreciation to the residents of Benton Harbor for serving as such fantastic hosts.”

Jeff Noel, vice president of Global Corporate Communications at Whirlpool, said the turnout was fantastic.

Jeff Noel, vice president of Global Corporate Communications at Whirlpool Corp., hands over a Christmas ham Wednesday afternoon. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

Jeff Noel, vice president of Global Corporate Communications at Whirlpool Corp., hands over a Christmas ham Wednesday afternoon. (Tony Wittkowski | HP Staff)

In return for handing out some of the food Wednesday, Noel was given words of thanks, some hugs and a few dinner invitations.

“I had one gentleman who told me he will be having sweet potato pie, so I’m definitely going to be over there for that,” Noel said. “This is a real joy for all of us to be a part of helping to improve the holiday season. You can’t help but feel special, giving away these hams and turkeys because everyone is so friendly and wonderful in return.”

Walter Gibson, who was in town and visiting from Louisiana, said he heard about the giveaway through a friend. Gibson said he wanted to surprise his family that still lives in Benton Harbor with a holiday ham.

“I thank God they came together to do this. I never expected anything like this when I got to town,” he said. “I was hoping for some snow to tell you the truth. We don’t get snow down in Louisiana.”

Lucretia Williams of Benton Harbor got a ham and plans on making it for her grandchildren on Christmas Eve.

“I was just passing by on my way to the drug store to get my medicine and I saw all these people,” Williams said after thanking several of the volunteers on hand. “I nearly jumped out the car to go sign in. This is such a blessing.”

Muhammad was among the volunteers passing out food. The mayor-elect said he wants to make this a yearly tradition.

“We hope to do this annually,” he said. “We will be helping all we can. This is just a start of things to come.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 24, 2015)

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