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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘It takes an entire community’: Volunteers drive turkey-donating event in 20th year

Joe Taitano receives his meal box during the 20th annual Tom's Turkey Drive on Tuesday at the Spokane Veteran's Memorial Arena. The boxes are designed to feed families of four and include everything from the turkey to bread rolls to cranberry sauce. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

It took more than 1,600 volunteers to put together and distribute 11,000 Thanksgiving meals for Tom’s Turkey Drive over the last several days.

For many families, that meant they didn’t have to choose between necessary expenses and a holiday meal.

“We have bills to pay and everything, so this helps us out with Thanksgiving,” said Mercedes Strange, 20, a new mother to 4-month-old Apollo.

“It’s great to have these guys help out,” she added. “And the food is good.”

Strange’s boyfriend, Keanu Tretheway, 26, agreed.

“It gives us the necessities that we need for Thanksgiving,” Tretheway said, noting it was his second time at the turkey drive.

The couple said their favorite item in the Thanksgiving box, which includes a frozen turkey, milk, rolls and canned goods, is the stuffing. But Apollo will have to miss out.

“He’ll still be on formula,” Tretheway said.

This year was Strange’s fourth Thanksgiving coming to the turkey drive, she said. Her family, with six brothers, six cousins, aunts and grandparents, first learned about it from her grandmother’s friend, who said it could help them out.

“And it did,” Strange said. “We didn’t have a lot of money.”

Patricia Irish, 77, was a first-timer at the turkey drive. She recently moved back to Spokane to live with her daughter after 18 years in Western Washington.

“I live on a fixed income, and I don’t get very many food stamps, so it helps,” Irish said. “I didn’t know there were this many people in Spokane that need food.”

She said her holiday will include her daughter and her twin 18-year-old grandsons.

“They eat a lot,” said Irish, who learned about the turkey drive at the food bank.

Second Harvest, a nonprofit that provides food to food banks and meal centers, organizes the turkey drive, which was dreamed up by KREM weatherman Tom Sherry in 2000.

“It’s a big production that we’ve had enough years to make it work seamlessly,” said Julie Humphreys, a Second Harvest spokeswoman.

Kevin Miller, a volunteer at Second Harvest for the last decade, has used the turkey drive to promote the free cooking classes the nonprofit puts on throughout the year. Some of those recipes include leftover turkey.

Miller said it gives him a warm, fuzzy feeling to help out.

“It puts a smile on everybody’s face,” Miller said.

About 600 volunteers were at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Tuesday to hand out 7,500 meals to people who started lining up as early as 6 a.m. The other 3,500 meals are delivered to outlying areas, such as Deer Park, Cheney and Coeur d’Alene. About 4,500 of those meals were prepared Monday over more than 12 hours.

“It takes an entire community,” Humphreys said.

Rosauers, a turkey drive sponsor for 18 years, asked customers to donate $20 to cover about half the cost of one of the 30-pound boxes of food on Friday and Saturday.

Ten Rosauers employees volunteered Tuesday, a shortage compared with the usual 20, because others had to be available to help open a new grocery store location.

“I love it so much,” said Sheena Kohlstedt, a pricing clerk who has volunteered the last few years. “There’s such an awesome atmosphere. It’s like everybody coming together to make the community a better place.”

Rosauers controller Rebecca Severtsen-Rea has been volunteering at the event for three years.

“It reminds me that we all have so much to be thankful for,” Severtsen-Rea said.

Rosauers CEO Jeff Philipps said a large portion of the funds for the drive comes through Rosauers. This year they received a $10,000 anonymous donation.

“I think back to the early days where we only had a few businesses to sponsor this,” said Philipps, who has volunteered for 18 years. “Now we have hundreds, and it’s a community event.”

Other volunteers and sponsors included Numerica, Avista, Itron and a couple of Spokane Shock players. About 30 Starbucks employees and their family members were also there.

Twenty-nine local Starbucks stores donated all the proceeds from handcrafted beverages sold during two hours of business on Nov. 19. That turned into a nearly $16,000 check.

Before Starbucks started donating, district manager Amanda Jones was a volunteer at the turkey drive when they ran out of meals for people.

“I said, ‘There’s got to be more that Starbucks can do,’ ” Jones recalled from six years ago.

She then approached Starbucks leadership about ideas for how they could help.

“Seeing the faces of people going home with a Thanksgiving meal, that’s priceless,” Jones said.