Thousands of fresh oysters will be distributed to Island families and school children this weekend, thanks to an anonymous benefactor who donated funds to help Island oyster farmers.

On Saturday, some 18,000 oysters will be given away in 36-count bags on a first-come, first-served basis at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. The event is drive-though, so people do not need to leave their cars.

Gates open at 11 a.m. Board of health rules require that people bring their own coolers and ice.

The limit is one bag per vehicle. Seniors and others who are at risk can have a family member or neighbor pick up a bag of oysters for them.

Then on the following Friday, West Tisbury School chef Jenny DeVivo will cook oysters to feed school children aged 18 and under. Ms. DeVivo traditionally cooks fish on Fridays, but on May 22, the start of the Memorial Day weekend, she will be handing out oyster po’ boy sandwiches between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the West Tisbury School.

Preparation for the marathon week of oyster donations began on Wednesday this week, when a handful of growers and others gathered to shuck 2,000 oysters for the school lunch program.

The donor who purchased the oysters, asking not to be identified, shucked alongside the growers.

She said she donated funds because she saw a problem: oyster farmers have a product to sell but no market — and people in the community need a source of protein.

“I am more than pleased to be here and be a part of this,” the donor said.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the shellfish industry along with nearly every other aspect of working life on the Island. Oyster farmers said as much as 95 per cent of their business is dependent on restaurants, weddings and summer gatherings.

Ryan Smith of Signature Oysters in Katama, was one of the farmers shucking Wednesday. He said it has been so long since he made a delivery, he was worried his refrigerated truck would not start.

“I was very close to dumping them on the flats,” he said, gesturing to a bag of palm-sized oysters. “This is the best-case scenario for everyone. The timing could not be any better.”

Eleven oyster farms on the Island are involved in the program. They include Roysters, Little Minnow Oyster Co., Spearpoint Oysters, Blue Moon, Sweet Neck, Snows Point, Menemsha Creek Oysters, Green Door Oysters, Creekville Oysters and Chilmark Oyster Company.

Growers hope the program will spur a market for eating oysters at home.

Instructions on how to shuck or prepare oysters at home are available at the Farm, Field, Sea website.