Jim Gavras, a 78-year-old with a silver ponytail, moved with the agility of a much younger man on Tuesday morning, hoisting 30-pound boxes from a loaded forklift pallet onto a nearby table.
“You keep moving, you keep living,” said Gavras, one of about 200 people who volunteered to distribute Thanksgiving meal kits in frosty weather outside the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena.
This is his fifth year pitching in at Tom’s Turkey Drive, the annual charity event that doles out more than 10,000 free turkeys – with potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and all the other fixings – to families in need.
“I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I want to help my community,” Gavras said, while other volunteers slid the boxes down the table and handed them off to waiting recipients. “That’s what we fought for.”
Giving back is also personal for Gavras: A couple of years ago, he was homeless. The Veterans Affairs Department eventually helped him secure housing near Deer Lake, he said. He’ll spend this Thanksgiving with some of his four adult children.
Shortly after Tom’s Turkey Drive began at 10 a.m. Tuesday, a line of people snaked from the Arena parking lot onto the sidewalk along Howard Street. Bundled in hats and coats, some brought carts, wagons and strollers to haul away their boxes of food. Others carried their meal kits to their cars or received help from volunteers.
Mary Ann Bolter, a 63-year-old former caregiver from Spokane Valley, said she was picking up a meal to share with her nephew on Thursday. Pushing a walker through a shorter line reserved for people with disabilities, Bolter said severe arthritis forced her into retirement about five years ago.
“Sometimes you just need a little help when you’re retired and income is minimal,” Bolter said, heaping praise on the turkey drive organizers and volunteers.
The two-day event, now in its 19th year, is the brainchild of KREM weatherman Tom Sherry, and it’s organized by Second Harvest, the Spokane-based food bank.
Customers at Rosauers Supermarkets paid for many of the $20 meal kits. Darigold donated 11,000 half-gallon cartons of milk. Franz Bakery provided all the rolls and boxes of stuffing mix. Other sponsors include Numerica Credit Union, Starbucks, Itron and the Washington Dairy Farmers.
A free turkey dinner will be a big help for Mike and Cindy Draz, who plan to cook for their three children and seven grandchildren on Thursday. He worked in building maintenance; she worked in the food and beverage industry. Now they’re both retired and living on a fixed income, so the Spokane couple decided, for the first time, that they could use a little help from Tom’s Turkey Drive.
“We kind of always knew about it, but we never came because we really didn’t need it until this year,” Mike Draz said while pushing his 2-year-old grandson, Jet, in a stroller. “Retirement’s not all it’s chalked up to be.”
The turkey drive will continue until 5 p.m. Wednesday or until supplies run out. The event also features a resource fair inside the Arena.
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