Mobile Turkey Unit preps for 19th year

For nearly two decades, Clinton resident Jamie Canby has seen the impact of the Mobile Turkey Unit on the South and Central Whidbey communities.

One experience stands out for the longtime volunteer. It was November 1999, during the all-volunteer organization’s first year of providing and delivering Thanksgiving meals to people in need.

Canby and his son, Jimmy, were making deliveries to homes on South Whidbey. They visited the home of a Sandy Hook man, but no one answered when they knocked on his door. They were about to leave and continue their delivery run when the man emerged with an Intravenous catheter, also known as an IV line, in tow.

Despite his poor physical condition, the man expressed his gratitude and conversed with the Canbys for a while. They left a short while later glad they hadn’t left without delivering the meal and happy to have provided a bright spot in the man’s day.

The Canbys learned the man died six weeks later.

“That was a learning point for my son in that you’ve done something for someone who is in need,” Canby said. “…We felt like we had another rewarding delivery.”

The Mobile Turkey Unit is preparing for its 19th year providing free meals on Thanksgiving Day. The meals will be prepared at St. Hubert’s Roman Catholic Church in Langley, while deliveries will be made throughout the morning.

As of Thursday, the organization received 425 orders for meals. Gwendine Norton, meal request coordinator, said she expects that number to rise by the order deadline of 5 p.m. Nov. 19.

The program serves a wide range of people, from the homeless and unemployed to the elderly who are living alone and those working on Thanksgiving, such as law enforcement. There is no criteria for the service, meaning anyone who is need can utilize it.

“We just really want to make sure everybody who needs a Thanksgiving meal is served,” Norton said.

Norton said the organization is trying to maintain the vision of its founder, Tom Arhontas, who died in 2008.

“It was his original vision that if a person asks, they would receive it,” Norton said.

It takes a community effort to keep it going. Approximately 150 volunteers will help cook 28 turkeys, 250-300 pounds mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans and more. Those not cooking will help hand out food or make deliveries to homes around South and Central Whidbey.

Thanksgiving meals will also be available to those without a permanent address. They will be delivered to the Chevron Short Stop in Freeland and Mobil Gas Station in Bayview; there also are efforts being made to provide meals at locations in Clinton.

Norton and her husband Tom, who cooks for the Mobile Turkey Unit on Thanksgiving Day, got involved five years ago.

“We wanted to find a way to help other people and do something for the day,” Norton said. “Now, it’s become a passion and we’ve become deeply involved in it.”

Tom Norton, who is also vice president of the Mobile Turkey Unit’s board of directors, said the effort by the community is “amazing” and that it should not be forgotten that the volunteers work on Thanksgiving Day when they could just as easily be at home with their own families. He finds the work extremely gratifying.

“I enjoy it or I wouldn’t be doing it,” Tom Norton said.

Liz Ketcheson, a Greenbank resident and president of the board, said the Mobile Turkey Unit fills a “real need” on the island during Thanksgiving.

“We’re helping people on this island who would otherwise not have a meal on Thanksgiving,” Ketcheson said. “… I think in a lot of ways it’s also bringing people from all over the south part of the island for a few hours to share and be part of what we feel is a very important role at this time of year.”

The Mobile Turkey Unit’s leaders are currently working on acquiring a 501(c)3 non-profit designatio, which could lead to additional funding from local, state and national grants. It would also allow contributions to be tax deductible.

“This group is preparing to keep it going and are committed to seeing this continue for our community,” Gwendine Norton said.

The Mobile Turkey Unit is currently in need of more volunteer drivers.

Anyone interested in volunteering or wanting to place a meal order, should call Gwendine Norton at 360-321-9782 or go online to to make a request online.

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