Volunteering to feed others is a Thanksgiving tradition

Some families watch football, run marathons or take naps on Thanksgiving Day.

Others have a long-standing tradition of volunteering for the Mobile Turkey Unit, a local nonprofit that has been bringing Thanksgiving meals to those in need on the island for the past 21 years.

Mobile Turkey Unit carries on the community service that late founder Thomas Arhontas first established. The annual program delivers cooked meals to the elderly, those with low income, those with disabilities, the home-bound and people working on Thanksgiving Day.

Volunteer drivers canvass the island, from Clinton to Coupeville. For those with no permanent address, meals are distributed at Chevron Short Stop in Freeland and Mobil Gas Station in Bayview.

The cooking begins on Tuesday at St. Hubert’s Roman Catholic Church in Langley. Turkeys, pies and rolls are purchased from Goose Grocer. The Knights of Columbus have donated 350 pounds of potatoes. Whidbey Ice Cream will be lending their cold storage for Mobile Turkey Unit to use again.

On Thursday morning, volunteers arrive to pack the meals. Last year it took only one hour to assemble 550 meals.

“On Thanksgiving morning, maybe it looks like chaos, but it’s organized chaos,” said Gwendine Norton, co-president and meal intake coordinator.

With several volunteer opportunities available for all ages, Mobile Turkey Unit has become a family affair.

Kim Kramer, the organization’s vice president, has been bringing her daughters and granddaughters to help with the meal prep for the past three years. This year will be her youngest granddaughter’s first chance to volunteer.

“They love it, even though it’s kind of early for a day they don’t have school,” Kramer said.

Kim Hodges began volunteering with her family four years ago. As a driver, she remembers delivering meals to people who didn’t have family to celebrate the holiday with.

“It just really sets the tone for the day,” Hodges said. “We got to deliver meals to someone’s grandma or grandpa that didn’t have family around. It was pretty grounding.”

This is the second year her son’s troop, South Whidbey Cub Scouts Pack 57, will be involved. The boys have recently earned their Whittling Chips and are prepared to help peel potatoes.

This year the nonprofit took a big step in purchasing its own domain name. When volunteers signed up online, they were presented with a question asking if they had ever volunteered for Mobile Turkey Unit before. This showed that 50 percent of the volunteers are new.

“All of these volunteers are showing up to give their time. It’s just beautiful to see,” Norton said. “We could not do it without our volunteers.”

Kramer agreed.

“Whidbey is such a philanthropic island,” she said. “It’s really heart-warming to see the amount of volunteers, especially on a holiday.

Over 150 volunteers have signed up, and 500 meals have been ordered as of Nov. 14. Norton said turkey slicers and drivers are still needed. To volunteer, visit www.mobileturkeyunit.com/volunteer.

The deadline to order meals is 7 p.m. on Nov. 21. To order a meal for yourself or someone you know, visit www.mobileturkeyunit.com/request-a-meal.

For those on the north end of the island, North Whidbey Community Harvest will be providing a Thanksgiving Day meal at 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. To volunteer or request a meal delivery, call 360-240-1477.