Local charities serving the needy and homeless are sweating it out this week as donations of turkeys and other food for Thanksgiving meals and the rest of the holiday season lag behind last year.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Poverello House in downtown Fresno had fewer than 900 turkeys among its provisions. “Usually if we have about 1,000 turkeys, we feel good” about making it through the holiday season, executive director Cruz Avila said. “If we don’t hit those numbers by Wednesday, I’ll be a little bit worried.”
Increased need this year, however, has prompted Poverello House to increase its goal to 2,000 turkeys for the 2015 holiday season.
Donations are lower this year than in the past. … Maybe this year it could be families are waiting for school to get out so they could come down as a family to donate.
Cruz Avila, Poverello House executive director
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“Usually, donations have come in a bit more by this time,” he added. “Donations are lower this year than in the past. … Maybe this year it could be families are waiting for school to get out so they could come down as a family to donate.”
Avila said he believes the drought’s effects on families and the Valley’s economy could be dampening the pace of donations this year, and not just donations of turkeys in advance of the shelter’s Thanksgiving Day meal on Thursday. “It has been a slow year with donations across the board,” he said. But, he added, his organization and others are grateful for what they do receive from the community. “We’re very hopeful, and we are blessed with the donations that have come in, even with all that’s going on in the economy.”
The Poverello House expects to serve as many as 800 people, and maybe even more, on Thanksgiving Day. “Right now, we’re just taking it holiday by holiday,” Avila said. “Once Dec. 1 arrives, we’ll start to focus on Christmas.”
The shelter is keeping its gates open an extra hour, until 6 p.m., through Wednesday to accept donations of turkeys, food and other products. “The community has always responded,” Avila said. “We usually have some people who come in the day before (Thanksgiving) to donate turkeys. … We’re humbled that folks choose Poverello to make donations.”
At the nearby Fresno Rescue Mission, marketing and donor development director Deborah Torres said that while there is more acute awareness in the community about the problems of the less fortunate, “we really want people to understand that the need is there 365 days a year.”
We’re seeing drought impacts, seasonal impacts. … There are more working families, and they’re needing us for longer periods of time.
Kym Dildine, Community Food Bank development director
For the Rescue Mission, Thanksgiving Day will be just one more day of providing a hot meal and shelter to those who need it. The organization served a full-blown Thanksgiving-style meal with turkey and traditional side dishes Tuesday at its downtown shelter as well as its Rescue the Children shelter for mothers and families in central Fresno. Torres said a local radio station’s turkey drive for the Rescue Mission attracted donations of enough poultry to serve the 300 or so meals needed for the Tuesday event. Beyond that, however, “we don’t have enough turkeys to meet our holiday season,” Torres said.
It’s not only the shelters that are feeling the pinch this holiday season. Donations to the Fresno-based Community Food Bank, which works with more than 200 Valley nonprofits to provide monthly distributions of food boxes for families, are flat this year compared to last, even as the need continues to grow.
“The need is up,” said Kym Dildine, Community Food Bank’s director of development. “We’re seeing drought impacts, seasonal impacts. It’s a combination of people who are unemployed and people who are underemployed. … There are more working families, and they’re needing us for longer periods of time.”
The food bank anticipates providing 10,000 holiday meal boxes to families through its partner nonprofits. In addition to mixes for stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, each family’s box includes a whole chicken “since turkeys are hard to come by and they’re expensive,” Dildine said. When the organization does receive a donation of turkeys, they are distributed to places like Poverello House and others that provide a specialized Thanksgiving meal rather than try to decide if some families should receive a turkey instead of a chicken. “We serve 280,000 people every month, so when you do get 1,000 turkeys, who do you give them to?” Dildine asked.
Like other charities, Community Food Bank tries to seize on the holiday spirit of giving to leverage donors to make “sustaining” contributions throughout the year, Dildine said. “We like to connect with clients when they’re in a more generous spirit and reflecting on the blessings they have, and encourage them to continue that giving,” she said. “One out of four Valley residents struggle with hunger on a daily basis year-round.”
One donated dollar to Community Food Bank provides food for about seven meals, she added.
Cutting it close
As charities sweat out whether they’ll get the donations they need for their planned Thanksgiving meals and other holiday events, a number of donors waited until Tuesday to step up with gifts of holiday turkeys.
Save Mart Supermarkets announced Monday that it donated 50 turkeys to the Boys & Girls Club of Fresno County to be distributed to families Tuesday evening. On Tuesday, Table Mountain Rancheria delivered 290 turkeys to the Poverello House. And families lining up for Tuesday afternoon’s regular last-Tuesday-of-the-month food-box giveaway at the West Fresno Family Resource Center got an unexpected addition to their boxes, as former Fresno State and NFL defensive back Richard Marshall donated 300 turkeys. Marshall, a second-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2006, last played for the San Diego Chargers in 2014, was an all-Western Athletic Conference player in 2004 and 2005 while at Fresno State.