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In the bird line, pluck, patience pay

Wed., Nov. 26, 2008

Those awaiting free turkeys include parents and children, immigrants and disabled

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, in front of the main doors of the Salvation Army, the early birds stood or sat patiently in line. It was 30 degrees outside. Inside, volunteers prepared to distribute 6,400 frozen birds – Thanksgiving turkeys – along with grocery bags filled with holiday fixings.

The turkey dinner giveaway at the Salvation Army, 222 E. Indiana Ave., is an annual ritual for those in need. You can learn a lot about human nature by watching what happens in the long line that forms well before the doors open.

Angie Black was No. 6 in line. She arrived at 5:10 a.m. She and David Crow, No. 4, discussed the people who try to cut in line. They called them “bum-rushers” – people who are envious of the early birds who got up before dawn, dressed in warm clothes, drove, walked or rode the bus to wait at the beginning of the line.

Some early birds yelled to the bum-rushers: “The line’s back there!”

But Black’s philosophy was: Treat the bum-rushers with kindness. “You don’t want to be rude,” she said. “You don’t want to lower yourself to their level.”

The line “monitors” – Salvation Army employees and volunteers – surveyed the scene. By 7, the line stretched around the building. It was 31 degrees. As she walked the perimeter, Salvation Army Capt. Katheleen Johnson asked waiting people what they needed. Coffee? Free at the canteen truck.

She paid close attention to older people walking with canes. N eed a chair? Many did. She drew extra close to the babies in strollers in line with their parents. Warm enough? Most were. Though people could see their breath, though toes were frozen on many feet, the people in line answered Johnson’s questions with humor. What did they need? Well, make it 10 degrees warmer. A TV set. Steak and eggs. A space heater.

“It’s amazing, amazing,” Johnson said. “If my mom were here – she has emphysema – she wouldn’t be able to stand for five minutes. We’re all the same. We just have different financials.”

Meanwhile, at the front of the line, Crow was in a friendly argument with Deborah Arguellez, who, along with her son Jakob Proffer, occupied the No. 1 spot in line. Having arrived at 4:50 a.m, they’d already been interviewed by TV stations. Crow said he thought the government should pay for solar panels to heat the homes of the elderly and people with disabilities. Arguellez said all people in need should get solar panels. Patrick Bower listened in. The young father, No. 2 in line, showed up at 5 a.m. with his 2-year-old son, Christian.

An older man was one of the early birds, too. He indicated, with gestures, that he didn’t speak English and didn’t wish to be part of the discussion. But he kept a kind smile going the entire time.

At 7:50 a.m., the energy in the early-birds line shifted. Those who were sitting stood up. Five minutes later, the doors opened. It was 32 degrees outside, but inside it was warm. Arguellez was first to walk through the inside line, this one filled with bags of food.

The 6,400 dinners were made possible by Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest; Tom’s Turkey Drive, a fundraising effort spearheaded by KREM-2 TV personality Tom Sherry; Rosauers Supermarkets and other sponsors and individual donors. And, of course, the Salvation Army.

Volunteer Lloyd Pilant walked early bird Black out of the building, carrying her 11.4-pound turkey. Black looked over the contents of her brown bag: the boxed stuffing mix, canned green beans, canned cranberry sauce, canned yams, margarine, Jiffy baking mix, boxed potato mix, baking potatoes and turkey gravy. It was 8:05 a.m., still 32. The Salvation Army giveaway would go for 12 more hours. The lines, moving steadily, stretched for blocks.

Black said, “I feel blessed to be here, pure and simple.”

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