Mobile Turkey Unit will be on the road again on Thanksgiving

Tom Arhontas won’t be at the wheel, but the Mobile Turkey Unit will hit the road again this year, bringing Thanksgiving dinners to shut-ins and other people in need.

For the eighth year in a row, the volunteers on wheels will prepare holiday turkey dinners with all the trimmings, and deliver them throughout the South End, from Coupeville to Clinton.

And they’re still looking for customers.

“We want everyone to know this is still available,” said Janice Martinovic, who’s leading this year’s effort. “No one should be sitting at home with a bowl of soup on Thanksgiving Day.”

Arhontas, a bus driver for the South Whidbey School District, was the driving force behind the Mobile Turkey Unit. He died last spring, but his fellow volunteers were determined to carry on.

“Things should be a lot calmer without Tom,” Martinovic mused. “All this was his idea, and he was a force to be reckoned with.”

“Tom was a softy,” she added. “He wouldn’t turn down anybody.”

Martinovic said the effort has averaged 150 dinners the past three years, but this year they’re planning for 200 because of the faltering economy.

“We started out eight years ago doing 50 dinners, and every year there’s been more and more,” she said.

Martinovic said 75 percent of the dinner recipients are elderly people and shut-ins. The rest are families who have fallen on hard times.

“There’s a huge population of elderly people on the island,” she said.

In the past, the dinners have been prepared by volunteers at the school district bus barn, but this year they will be assembled at the Eagles Aerie along Highway 525 between Double Bluff and Useless Bay roads.

The Eagles’ ovens can cook 15 turkeys at a time, Martinovic said, and one of the organization’s cooks has promised to help.

“We’ve been doing it so long, it’s pretty organized,” she said. “Things should go smoothly on the day.”

The dinners are mostly prepared the night before, then assembled and heated beginning at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving. The last delivery should be out the door by noon, Martinovic said.

About 30 volunteer drivers make the deliveries, she said.

“It’s a full-meal deal,” she added. “It’s hot and ready to go when we get it out.”

She said rising food prices and the increased cost of packaging were a concern this year. But several friends of Arhontas already have donated money, and most stores have provided raw materials at cost, Martinovic said.

There was even a donation of 200 pounds of potatoes.

“Somebody’s going to end up peeling 200 pounds of potatoes the night before,” she said with a smile.

Martinovic urged anyone interested in the program to consider donating pumpkin pies.

“In the past, the last 50 pieces of pie tended to get a little smaller,” she said.

Martinovic said that any leftovers will be donated to the dinner program at the Christian Missionary Alliance Church of Langley, but she added: “We don’t usually have a big problem with leftovers.”

She urged anyone who wants to recommend someone to receive a dinner to call her. Many people who could benefit from the program often are reluctant to call for themselves, she said.

She said volunteers are welcome, as are donations, which can still be made in the program’s name at Wells Fargo Bank in Freeland.

“We’re trying to give back to a community that gives so much to us,” Martinovic said. “I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

For information, or to volunteer, call Martinovic at 321-4692. To recommend someone for the program, call 221-5717 or 579-4009.

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