Merry Meals: A Non-Profit Started by One of Our Very Own

Today, 600 families are served a Christmas dinner by Merry Meals. But the humble beginning in 2008 was just one holiday dinner.

Merry Meals is the non-profit begun by Mandy Moore, Valparaiso Office Manager. The catalyst was the old social media group Freecycle, where Mandy saw that a person listed a free turkey to whoever needed it. The response to this humble offering was so great that  she offered a turkey dinner herself on the site. She and her kids chose the recipient and at Thanksgiving dinner that year, she told her extended family about the experience and encouraged dad and brothers to help her do something similar for Christmas. Her family’s pooled resources provided seven meals for Christmas that year. The following year, she took her fledgling efforts to Facebook and Merry Meals was born.

Merry Meals in 2018 and Beyond

Seeing people in such need, plus involving her kids in helping others less fortunate became strong reasons for her to keep pressing forward, and in 2018, an anticipated 600 ham dinners will be distributed by Merry Meals just a few days before Christmas. Distribution day at the Moose Lodge in Chesterton is a time of fun for families as Santa will appear with his candy bag and Little Caesar’s caters the event with free slices of pizza for the waiting families. Mandy’s kids and their friends enjoy meeting the families and carrying boxes of food to their cars.

The program has grown to the point that Mandy never knows what might come in the days before and the last few years, a breakfast donation is included for the families, complete with eggs, potatoes and bacon. Last year all the families received a gallon of milk. This year, everyone will have a bag of organic apples to go along with ham, potatoes, canned goods and a dessert mix. It’s hoped that recipient families will prepare meals together as part of their holiday tradition.

Gathering donations is a community effort as Cargill, the corporation that Mandy formerly worked for donated most of the hams the past several years, and will do so again this year. Boy Scout troops, school classrooms, and other local groups fill in with canned food drives and gifts for the project.

Recipient families only need to be able to get to the distribution site on the day, this year, December 22nd. Out of gratitude, many have promised to return as helpers, and Mandy reports that some do. She says of the rewarding experience, “It’s hard work, but really fun, too.” She credits the Merry Meals program with helping her kids understand the lesson she has always phrased, “It’s our job to take care of our neighbors.

How to Get Involved

If you wish to get involved by donating or helping distribute, you may contact Mandy, 219-462-3436, or For more pictures and information, visit the Merry Meals Facebook page.

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