NEW BEDFORD — For the past 24 years, Cans Across the Park was a combined effort between WBSM and the United Way of Greater New Bedford to help feed families in need for Thanksgiving.

But as the food drive hits the quarter-century mark, it is morphing into 'Operation: Food Drop', so that those who wish to donate can just come and drop off canned goods instead of lining them up across Buttonwood Park.

On Friday, November 10th, people are encouraged to bring canned items that would be featured in a traditional Thanksgiving meal to the Warming House at Buttonwood Park. The goal is to collect 6,500 pounds of food that will be packaged into meals the United Way can donate to local food pantries, in order to be distributed to those in need.

"We're looking to package 1,000 Thanksgiving meals, which is 500 more than last year," said Victoria Grasela, Director of Marketing and Community Relations for the United Way of Greater New Bedford. "We're really doubling our efforts this year."

The United Way will then package the meals together, along with turkeys, at its Hunger Heroes Project event on November 18th at the Dennison Memorial Community Center. Grasela said over 200 people have already volunteered to help with that event, which happens to fall on Family Volunteer Day.

"Which is perfect for what we're trying to do, and what we are doing is encouraging families to come out together and volunteer," she said. "It's fantastic to see so many people in our community wanting to come out and give back."

Because of the amount of work involved in packaging together those meals at the November 18th event, the decision was made to switch from 'Cans Across the Park' to 'Operation: Food Drop'.

"It's easier to have whatever is donated dropped off at one location, and then all the volunteers take it and sort it from there," Grasela said. "It really helps with our sorting, because at Hunger Heroes, last year we got 20,000 pounds of food, which we're hoping to increase this year, because we're hoping to increase the number of baskets we're doing. So having some of that presorted and ready to go for families to start packaging meals, it really helps a lot."

Those who wish to volunteer for Hunger Heroes Project can do so at VolunteerSouthCoast.org. Grasela also stated that they're currently looking for children and adults to make Thanksgiving cards to place with the food.

"Putting them in as well gives it that personal touch, that 'family' piece of it all," she said.

Operation: Food Drop will take place Friday, November 10th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Warming House at Buttonwood Park. You can view a list of accepted donations here.