Aaron Brown grabbed box after box full of 12-pound turkeys, apples, bread, stuffing, canned goods and milk from a towering pallet. It was taller than him, and it was raining, but his smile was infectious and it was easily spreading.
The 44-year-old hoisted the crates onto an ever-rotating line of trolleys, ready to deliver the goods to trunks and backseats spanning the large parking lot of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. From there, in just a few days, the birds would be cooked, the bread would be buttered, and the milk would wash it all down.
Brown should know – years before, he was on the other side of the line.
“We were in a bad place back then,” the father of three said. “I’ve been in a spot where you had to be here and you just need a turkey.”
Eventually his luck turned around, and good fortune came his way. Now, he joins others like himself who donate a few hours of their day each Tuesday before Thanksgiving holiday to pay it forward.
“Being able to help the people and know they’re being helped out, that’s all that matters,” he said. “It helps that I like doing it.”
Brown is just one of about 200 volunteers who flock to Tom’s Turkey Drive each year, ready to lend a helping hand. This year was no different. As the thousands in line Tuesday morning snaked their way out past the arena several hundred yards downhill and south toward the Clinkerdagger steakhouse on Mallon Street, the cavalcade of volunteers got one more pep talk from turkey drive workers before the doors swung open.
They lined up along the hundreds of pallets of food, or grabbed a small wagon used to transport the boxes of food for those not able to carry it themselves. Then it was go time.
Trishell Kallenbach, who like Brown was a recipient of a free turkey in the past, was also responsible for piling the turkeys on empty carts. She said the drive is something she still looks forward to, but for a completely different reason these days.
Also a parent to three, Kallenbach moved to Spokane from San Diego 12 years ago. Back then she was homeless, didn’t have a job, and relied on food banks such as 2nd Harvest, one of the collaborators on the drive, to get by. And for Thanksgiving, like thousands of others, she relied on help to cook a good family meal.
Now she works at a financial service company. And she is doing quite well, she said. To give back, she donates as much of her time as she can to the same avenues she used to get back on her feet.
“People helped me when I needed it most and this is a way of giving back,” she said. “I like to give back.”
Other volunteers were simply there to help, including the traffic unit of the Spokane Police Department. Officer Ken Applewhaite, who’s been with the department for more than 20 years, was just another volunteer Tuesday morning.
As he trollied a cart of four boxes to a family parked a few hundred feet away in the parking lot, he made small talk and joked.
“Alright, I’ll just follow you guys, yeah? I’m not in a rush,” he said. “Just try to keep it under 40 please.”
Applewhaite, who along with the other officers is now in his second year of volunteering at the drive, said it was a no-brainer when it came time to sign up again.
“That’s what we’re here for right?” he said. “To give thanks. It’s Thanksgiving.”
Robyn Anderson, the woman he was helping, was grateful – especially since she recently had surgery and has been reovering. Without the turkey drive she likely wouldn’t have a proper holiday meal come Thursday.
“I’ve been kind of a couch potato,” she said. “But I’ll volunteer next year.”
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