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

Shawn Vestal: He’s retired, but you can’t keep Tom away from beloved turkey drive

Tom Sherry does the weather forecast during KREM’s 4 p.m. newscast on Wednesday. Sherry, a longtime KREM weatherman and anchor, signs off the air Friday after more than 30 years in the news business in Spokane.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Tom Sherry has stepped away from the nightly news.

But you get the impression that he’d have to be dragged away from the turkey drive that bears his name.

“He will show up at any hour to get the message across,” said Laura Papetti, a news anchor and community services manager at KREM 2 who coordinates and organizes Tom’s Turkey Drive in conjunction with Second Harvest. “He’ll speak at countless organizations and businesses. … This year, he said, ‘November’s yours. Use me as you will.’”

So Sherry, the avuncular longtime weatherman at KREM who is surely on the short list of the most recognizable people in the city, is back at the head of the annual Thanksgiving meal drive for the 23rd year despite the fact that he retired in March.

“When I retired, it was always in the plan that I’d continue to do this,” Sherry said this week.

Over the years, the project has distributed thousands upon thousands of make-at-home holiday feasts to families in Spokane and around the region; this year it plans to hand out 11,000 meal kits, including turkey, potatoes, rolls, stuffing, green beans and more. Shoppers buy the meal kits for a $20 donation at area Rosauers stores.

This weekend is crunch time for Tom’s Turkey Drive as Tuesday’s distribution day looms – and this year comes with the extra crunch of inflation. The average price of a Thanksgiving dinner has risen 20% from last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, and that means the need is greater out there.

It’s also making the meals more expensive to provide.

“The $20 (donation) – this year for I think the first time won’t really entirely pay for the bag,” Sherry said.

That price has been important to Sherry for its accessibility – at $20, more of us can afford to help more of us.

“It’s almost like every working person can really be a part of this if they want to,” he said.

That cost is heavily subsidized by donations of food items – Franz provides rolls and stuffing, Darigold donates milk, area farmers provide fresh potatoes and apples – but organizers are still hoping that they can raise extra donations to cover the rising costs.

“It’s causing me a lot of anxiety,” Papetti said. “I will not sleep, probably, for the next several days.”

Sherry started the drive more than two decades ago after he’d been on the job at KREM for several years. He was looking for something to do that would foster community and be of service, and he noticed that area charities were often putting out urgent, last-minute calls for turkey donations around Thanksgiving.

“I thought, ‘I can do this,’” he said.

The first year, they distributed about 600 meals. They were comparatively simple affairs – a turkey with some boxed sides. But the turkey drive took off. Donors flocked to the project to help donate fresher local food. Fresh bread and stuffing. Half-gallons of milk. Regionally grown potatoes and apples.

“It just kept going,” he said. “It took on a life of its own.”

Second Harvest does a lot of the heavy lifting, organizationally, and Sherry praised the food bank network for its thrift.

“I see how they strangle a dollar,” he said. “They just stretch it. They’re so respectful of the donated dollar.”

At this point, the bags you see at Rosauers are symbolic, not actual. You couldn’t fit all the food in them if you tried. Volunteers will be distributing boxes, and big ones, on Tuesday at the fairgrounds.

“We went from pre-packaging a very small meal weeks in advance to now it’s such a substantial amount of food that this weekend we will have a full warehouse of volunteers putting thousands of meals in boxes,” Papetti said.

Sherry’s been out there beating the drum for the drive all month. Papetti said he’s sometimes scheduled to do appearances from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. He said that as he meets people who’ve had a part of the turkey drive, either as donors or recipients, he hears about the “little miracles” that have arisen from it – such as people who once received a meal during a time of need who later turned around to donate or volunteer.

“Now, they’re where they want to be and they’re paying it forward,” he said. “Those are the stories that I really love.”

It’s what keeps him coming back, even out of a supposed retirement.

“It’s really the single greatest thing I’ve been involved with over 32 years in television,” he said.