At dawn on Thanksgiving morning last week, the fragrant fumes of Operation Turkey cooking and baking floated through the air at S. 58th and Chester. Upwards of 100 volunteers, mobilized organized by Operation Turkey (OT), stood before hot stoves and warming tables at The Common Place, or waited in line to fill their plastic delivery trays, or sped off to locations around the city with over 1,100 hot, delicious turkey dinners for needy residents.
“It’s really hard for many families here,” observed Dr. Elizabeth Hassraicks, Assistant Professor at the A. J. Drexel Autism Institute (whose daughter was dishing out mashed potatoes). Looking at the skyline, we don’t seem to be the poorest of the large U.S. cities, “but if you go farther than our schools and older neighborhoods you begin to see the realities.” That’s why community efforts like this are so important, she added.
Philadelphia OT’s 2nd Annual Thanksgiving dinner project was exquisitely organized by Andrea Johnson who founded and directs Girl U Can Do It, a non-profit that provides counseling and support for youth.
“A huge ‘thank you’ to everyone that came out today to give of their time and service,” the enthusiastic Johnson communicated to the work teams. “Your volunteering with us on Thanksgiving Day brings kindness, patience, empathy, and compassion to help make another’s day brighter. You have helped ensure that some 1,100 people in alternative means were provided a hot meal.
The number of meal recipients included some walk-ins from the Kingsesing neighborhood who had registered online. “If it wasn’t for you, one mother said, “I wouldn’t have been able to gather my family around the table this Thanksgiving. God bless you!”
“A special ‘thank you’ as well to the directors of The Common Place for donating the space for us to host Operation Turkey,” added Johnson. “With the huge space they provided us we were able to structure and organize Operation Turkey so that our volunteers could get home in time to enjoy Thanksgiving Day with their family and friends.”
Obviously, the activities centered around preparing the meals, generous portions of turkey or chicken stuffing, green beans, and mashed potatoes, along with hefty slices of pumpkin pie. From the kitchen, big warming pans were carried to the serving lines where the food was portioned out to a long line of youth who bagged the meals and took them out to the waiting delivery teams.
“This is my second year,” noted a weary but smiling Jovanna Lewis of East Oak Lane. “It’s hard to put into words the spirit of community everyone here feels. It adds so much to the meaning of Thanksgiving!”
A dozen or so youth of all ages were busy writing hearty Thanksgiving messages which were included with each meal. “Big hugs for everyone and warm Thanksgiving wishes!” carefully penned Bonnie from Pottstown. “Peace and blessings throughout the year and especially on this Thanksgiving Day,” wrote Ayanna from South Philly.
The Dougherty’s: mom Valerie and dad Ed made it a family effort. “It’s good to give back – this food and the friendship that goes with it,” said daughter Amanda, a 6th Grader; Marlene, a sophomore at Drexel added, “It will make our Thanksgiving dinner more meaningful.”
The turkeys and chickens were broiled beforehand by the Boston Market at 39th and Walnut” advised Johnson, “and we really appreciate the cooperation by the Brown Family ShopRite Super Stores at Island Avenue and Lindbergh Blvd, and on Parkside.”
OT Philadelphia was also sponsored by It Takes A Village providing transitional housing for youth (www.itavtransitionalhomes.net).
Nationally, Operation Turkey assures that 75,000 homeless and underserved persons get a hot meal at Thanksgiving. Major supporters include P.F.Chang’s China Bistros (Warrington, Plymouth Meeting and Glens Mills); Keller Williams Realty (offices in North East Phila.), Salvation Army; North American Title real estate advisors; and Global Branding Inc. marketing and product consultants.
This year, OT expects to mobilize up to 20,000 volunteers at 23 locations including 8 in its home state, Texas. “We couldn’t have done it without the guidance and support of the national organization,” reflected Johnson. “Many thanks to Brian Tolbert, the Executive Director, and Christina Isaac, the volunteer coordinator!”
Constantly brewing in the back of Johnson’s mind was the planning for another vigorous effort next year. “Operation Turkey 2020 is going to be an even greater challenge since we’re setting our target at 3000 meals! We’ll begin our planning in June,” Johnson confided, looking ahead with the kind of positive expectation that seems always to typify her personality. “We going to try to pinpoint areas in the city where there are a lot of homeless people.” To sign up for next year’s OT, Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Standing wistfully aside, broom in hand was sturdy Jeff Brown, a staff custodian at The Common Place. “This is wonderful; to see so many people working so hard to bless the lives on Thanksgiving. It’s what this holiday is all about, and why we created The Common Place!” he observed, anticipating there might be a little work for him when the meals were all shipped out. “It’s so beautifully organized! What a credit to the Operation Turkey folks!” (For information TCP, visit www.thecommonplacephilly.org)
Johnson’s Girl U Can Do It can be reached via www.girlucandoit.org.