Deadline for Mobile Turkey Unit sign up is Nov. 18

This year marks the 23rd for Mobile Turkey Unit, a nonprofit serving free Thanksgiving Day meals.

As the pandemic drags on through yet another holiday season, more and more people seem to be finding comfort in a home-delivered meal.

This year marks the 23rd anniversary for Mobile Turkey Unit, a nonprofit organization serving Thanksgiving Day meals free of charge to community members in need.

Last year, volunteers prepared and delivered a record-breaking 700 meals to residents, including the elderly, the unemployed, those with low income, those with disabilities, the home bound and people working on Thanksgiving Day.

This year, they’re prepared to serve the same number of people.

Meal Intake Coordinator Gwendine Norton said that just two weeks away from the big day, she has over 500 meal requests logged. It’s more than she’s ever seen before at this juncture in the month.

“I know there are some people who are still out of work,” she said. “I know that we’re serving a lot of people who are alone. I also know that a lot of people I’m hearing from are electing to not gather with families and are staying home, staying safe, that kind of thing.”

“We’re happy to try and meet that need,” she added.

Langley resident Loretta Martin has been both a meal recipient and a volunteer for the organization in years past.

“I missed it and that’s why when Gwendine called and asked if I wanted a dinner this year, I said I wanted to volunteer,” she said.

Martin has the vital job of calling up meal recipients from the previous year and asking if they would like to receive a meal again this year.

“Some of them are lonesome and want to talk for a while, others just got home from work and say, ‘Thanks so much. I loved it last year,’” she said.

Martin herself was happy to receive a meal from Mobile Turkey Unit last year, which she ate while video chatting with family members.

“Trying to cook a turkey, if you’re just one person, is ridiculous,” she said.

She’s looking forward to getting a meal home-delivered again this year and sharing Thanksgiving with her upstairs neighbor.

“It’s only once a year but it brings so much joy to people, particularly since the pandemic,” she said.

Mic Kisinger and her partner, Ann Fruechte, have been volunteering as delivery drivers for the past 10 years. Bringing meals to on-duty ferry workers on Thanksgiving Day has been a favorite for both of them.

“The ferry workers don’t get a chance to go home at meal time, and to see that the community is rewarding them with a nice Thanksgiving meal, it’s really fun to see some of the smiles,” Kisinger said.

The Freeland residents noticed that need grew during the pandemic.

“We don’t have family on the island,” Kisinger said. “This gives us a really nice holiday tradition that we can look forward to.”

Although Mobile Turkey Unit has more volunteers onboard than last year, there have been unexpected challenges. Most notable have been related to the supply chain.

Norton said it took two months to receive an order of non-perishable items, which include gravy, cranberry sauce and green beans. In previous years, the order has taken a mere week to arrive.

There is also a shortage of available refrigerated storage. After being told a refrigeration trailer could not be guaranteed this year, organizers scrambled to find a place to store the perishable items.

Fortunately, the South Whidbey School District and Whidbey Island Nourishes stepped up to offer cooler space.

All meals are prepared within the commercial kitchens at St. Hubert’s Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church in Langley. As usual, delivery drivers will bring meals to residents, from Clinton to Coupeville.

“I wish we could go further, but we’re doing all we can at this point,” Norton said.

For those with no permanent address, meals are distributed at Chevron Short Stop in Freeland and Mobil Gas Station in Bayview.

The deadline to order a meal is 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 18. To place an order, visit mobileturkeyunit.com/request-a-meal.

With North Whidbey Community Harvest being cancelled again this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, options for a Thanksgiving meal are a little more sparse up on the North End. Food banks, however, will be offering special Thanksgiving baskets to their clients.

Jean Wieman, executive director of North Whidbey Help House, said Thanksgiving baskets will be distributed starting Nov. 19.

People can register until the day before Nov. 25 and must bring identification and proof of address.

She stressed that meals will need to be cooked and do not come pre-prepared.

Aloha Hart, a volunteer and board member for Gifts from the Heart Food Bank in Coupeville, said that while it may be too late for new clients to get a turkey for Turkey Day, chickens will still be available for the latecomers.

“We want them to have as good a Thanksgiving as we do,” she said.

The food bank will be open an hour earlier than usual on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for pick-up of the holiday food.

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