OC Scrambles for Turkeys, Needs Help
By Dianne Anderson
Chicken – it’s what’s for dinner this Thanksgiving for thousands of low-income families across the Southland as COVID-19 and Avian flu have big birds in short order at food banks and food pantries everywhere.
Traditional turkey dinner will be served as usual at Southwest Community Center in Santa Ana, but they are not giving boxes out this year to take home.
“As for Thanksgiving, the turkey thing is almost null and void for getting turkeys and passing them out,” said Connie Jones, who serves on the Community Action Partnership of Orange County board.
Connie Jones is the retired executive director of the center founded by her grandmother, Annie Mae Tripp. She said it’s probably the worst year for turkeys she has seen.
A few years ago when times were hard, a local philanthropist came through at the last minute to buy tens of thousands of dollars of turkeys for the food bank.
She would love to see something like that happen again.
Between the pandemic and basic economic issues, turkeys are tight.
Warnings started coming down from USDA last summer that the bird flu would make for a hard holiday. The CDC reports over 50 million birds in the U.S. have died or were killed this year by the bird flu outbreak.
As a result, prices at the grocery stores may be affordable, but everyday families will pay more with average prices up by over 70%.
Jones said that Southwest Community Center is providing a hot Thanksgiving meal from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They may also participate with “We Give Thanks” annual tradition with Chef Frank Garcia at the Honda Center in Anaheim that feeds upwards of 15,000 to 20,000 every year.
Jones said it seems many more people asked for help this year.
“The giving right now seems to be fair, but we don’t know where it’s going to be at the end of the year. We really believe we are not going to go in the red. We don’t know what the first quarter is going to look like in 2023,” she said.
The center have been able to continue feeding, thanks to blessings such as $15,000 donated by Second Baptist Church. The center also received help from the Orange County Food Bank, and Food Finders.
According to a recent report from Feeding America, over 53 Million Americans turned to food banks and food pantries last year alone.
Orange County Food Bank Director Mark Lowry said that in 2019, turkey prices plummeted and many turkey farmers reduced their herds. However, feed costs and labor costs increased. They already had low herds of birds, then the Avian flu happened.
Back in March, he was told that if the food pantries didn’t order the turkeys then, they would likely be unavailable later.
“We didn’t have money to buy turkeys in March so we couldn’t commit then,” he said. “They were impossible to find at any price so we’re pretty much resigned to not having any turkeys purchased this Thanksgiving other than [those] donated to us.”
He said that their partner, We Give Thanks, also has a specific need for turkeys.
“It’s hard for them to have a Thanksgiving dinner without turkeys. We went shopping and found one truckload extraordinarily high priced. We were able to get our hands on one truckload of turkeys, mostly for the We Give Thanks event.”
However, that shipment is lagging.
As of last Thursday, he was still waiting on turkeys that were not yet delivered because the supply is so unstable. To date, the delivery was postponed five times.
He has heard that part of the problem is grocery chains place orders for turkeys two to three years in advance. Those requests are honored first because farmers can plan their business around the orders, leaving very little on the open market for food banks.
The economy is also seeing a strong uptick in requests for help with the cost of inflation.
“The official number is 12%, that’s what we think we know, but that is not my experience as a consumer when I go grocery shopping for my household. I see items that were $3.99 and now $6.99,” he said.
Homelessness is a concern, but they represent a very small percentage of those that get their food from the food bank. In reality, he said it’s only about 5% of homeless.
The two largest populations are the working poor, then seniors on fixed incomes, persons with a disability and those suffering job loss, short-term illness and injury.
This year, he said the food bank is giving out boxes, and people still need protein for Thanksgiving. They were able to buy chicken, although much more expensive than what they are accustomed to paying.
In the old days when he first started with the food bank, employers would give turkeys to their employees, who, in turn, would donate theirs to food banks. Turkeys would come in 50, 100 or 250 at a time, but that never happens today.
He said part of the solution to the turkey shortage is for anyone who can donate to drop off turkeys at the food bank or any local emergency feeding organization.
“This year was unique with regard to the shortage of turkeys, if you’re lucky enough to find them they are extraordinarily high,” he said. “If individuals are able to go to grocery stores and purchase turkeys and donate them, that would be appreciated more now than ever before.”