BY RECORD STAFF
The volunteer Mobile Turkey Unit is accepting requests for free, home-delivered Thanksgiving dinners to people on South and Central Whidbey for a 14th year of operation.
The holiday outreach was founded by the late South Whidbey resident and school bus driver Tom Arhontas, who believed “everyone deserves a Thanksgiving dinner.”
Volunteers cooked, packaged and delivered 333 meals last year to people in need, including seniors unable to cook a large meal or who were alone on Thanksgiving, ill and disabled people, low-income families, homeless individuals and people working on Thanksgiving Day.
“Some of the phone calls just break your heart,” said Art Taylor, who with his wife Dorothy fields all the phone-in meal requests. “There is more need on this island than most people realize. People are just so grateful for Thanksgiving dinner, especially the seniors who call,” he said.
“One memorable thank-you note we received last year was from a couple just returning from the hospital after a miscarriage. They picked up one of the dinners we left at a local service station, and wrote that having a traditional Thanksgiving meal helped them during a difficult time.”
The local effort has had several homes; first in the school district bus barn kitchen, then the American Legion Post, and for the last several years at the Eagles Aerie on Highway 525. Once the number of meals hit 330, however, they knew they had to look for a larger site. St. Hubert Catholic Church in Langley volunteered the use of their new commercial kitchen and multi-purpose room.
“We are happy to help such a great community effort,” said the Rev. Rick Spicer of St. Hubert Catholic Church, who will give this year’s prayer and reflection before volunteers start the food assembly line.
Most of the volunteers and board members come from area churches such as St. Hubert, St. Augustine’s and Trinity, but the event is open for all to participate. More than 100 volunteers usually help. This year’s plans call for an estimated 17 turkeys to be cooked and carved, 400 pounds of potatoes to be peeled and mashed, and 125 pies to be sliced. Langley United Methodist Church has offered extra refrigerator space for the event.
The core group of turkey unit volunteers has been meeting monthly to better restructure operations.
“We designated operational and administrative positions to better share responsibilities, upgraded our website to include an online meal request form, and there is even a way to donate online via Trinity Lutheran Church which is hosting that function for us,” Spicer said.
Other changes include a required volunteer waiver form, and a requirement of a state food handler permit for those cooking in the kitchen. Leaders met in consultation with a representative of the Island County Health Department to ensure best practices are being met for preparation of the dinners which include sliced turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans, yams, cranberry sauce, a roll, butter pat, and pumpkin pie.
People can request a meal for themselves or neighbors in need by calling 341-1220 and leaving a message, using the online form at www.mobileturkeyunit.wordpress.com, or via a meal request form available at Good Cheer Food Bank, Senior Services of Island County, or Helping Hand of South Whidbey which should be mailed by Nov. 17. Volunteers should also call the same phone number.
Donations can be made online or a check made out to TLC with ‘Mobile Turkey Unit’ in the memo area, and mailed to Trinity Lutheran Church, P.O. Box 97, Freeland, WA 98249.