It’s the volunteers that make the Salvation Army Thanksgiving dinner distribution work.
As many as 600 of them signed up this year to park the cars, do the intake, stock food, carry groceries and keep the line moving during three shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Because of them, most of the thousands of needy recipients who received a turkey and fixings on Tuesday didn’t have to stand in line outside as temperatures dipped into the single digits.
The volunteers say they do it because “it’s good for the community” or “it’s the right thing to do.” But really, it’s because it fills their hearts with the something that’s always in supply in Spokane – even in these hard times.
Some, like Heather Browning, volunteer because they know how it feels to be on the receiving end of kindness.
“I needed help once, and now I’m giving back,” said Browning, who recalled standing in the free turkey line perhaps 15 years ago when she was a single mom attending Spokane Community College.
Last summer, Browning was one of more than 30 Spokane County sheriff’s deputies laid off from Geiger Corrections Center, a job she held for about two years. So now her family is getting by on her husband’s salary as a meat cutter. Still, they both found time to volunteer at the Salvation Army on Tuesday.
The Salvation Army said it distributed 6,260 turkeys on Tuesday, with the help of Second Harvest Food Bank and Tom’s Turkey Tuesday. Those turkeys will feed 18,440 people.
Greeting food recipients at the front door of the charity’s offices, 222 E. Indiana Ave., was Shelley Hartmann, the program manager for the Salvation Army family emergency shelter.
Hartmann has observed a change in the people filling the shelter’s 18 rooms of late. Before, she said, you’d see a lot of single parents, mostly moms and children. Now, it’s moms and dads, too, folks who recently got laid off.
It doesn’t take long to lose everything when you’re out of work, she said.
At the other end of the facility, a steady stream of people headed out the back door, their arms loaded with food.
“Thank God for this,” said one couple, who identified themselves only by their first names, Jimmy and Robin, as they walked in the cold carrying the makings for Thursday’s dinner.
They said they will be helping to feed seven people, including their children and grandchildren, at a time when Jimmy has been unable to find work as a cook. They’ve been living pretty much on his veteran’s pension, he said.
Another couple, who identified themselves only as Kathy and Denny, both out of work, moved to Spokane in May because Denny owned a home here and they needed to be near specialized medical care for Kathy’s daughter, who was injured when she was hit by a car in Wyoming.
They will be feeding eight with the turkey, a sack of potatoes, some yams, cranberry relish, butter, bread, stuffing and canned corn.
Will it be enough?
“We’ll make it work,” Kathy said.