One Thursday in November, Debra Parker-Flowers gave thanks.
Not for free time, for family, or for soccer, but for the power behind a massive network that distributes free turkeys to pantries in the Las Vegas Valley.
She successfully distributed nearly 200 turkeys to families who visited Macedonian Social Enrichment Services, or MOSES, a pantry in North Las Vegas.
“Thank goodness we were able to get them this year because there is supposed to be such a shortage of turkeys,” Parker-Flowers said a week before the holidays. “We were so worried. But we gave the turkeys, we gave them stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, onions, macaroni and cheese – we gave them the whole meal. Everyone was so happy. We all felt so good that we were able to feed so many people.
Getting over 11,000 turkeys to about 150 southern Nevada pantries is no small feat. Annual supply for holiday food drives begins months in advance for the area’s only food bank, Three Square. The operation crosses several states and involves hundreds of helping hands – all to ensure that those who suffer from food insecurity can have a good meal for the holidays.
Get the birds
Three Square kicks off the holiday food shopping season long before pumpkin spice hits menus in the fall. Maurice Johnson, chief operating officer for the food bank, said significant planning was needed because of the amount coming in from out-of-state: produce from California, Colorado and Idaho; canned foods from the Midwest; protein from the east. Conversations with manufacturers and suppliers begin in January.
Food bank staff then work with its partner agencies to roughly estimate how many turkeys they might want for the vacation. Then, they identify the suppliers who offer wholesale discounts to Feeding America affiliates and lock in the quantity and prices of the goods.
This has been a particularly difficult year, Johnson said, due to fluctuations in shipping caused by the pandemic.
“Even when we bought them, at that point in May, they weren’t even guaranteed to be here,” Johnson said. “It shows how disruptive the supply chain has been, given that we could get them in May and there was no guarantee we would get them until Thanksgiving.”
Shipping issues continued to complicate Thanksgiving deliveries this month. Truckers couldn’t guarantee arrival on November 13 or 15, so seven of the roughly 30 people from the Three Square warehouse and transport team arrived on Sunday – when the warehouse is normally closed – to receive and process the five trucks of whole turkeys. brands such as Butterball.
The next day, they visited agencies in Clark, Esmeralda, Nye and Lincoln counties. Some deliveries from Three Square go to Tonopah.
“They started flying from here – no pun intended – on the 15th,” Johnson said.
In the pantry
Preparing for the holidays may seem a little different for pantries – agencies that buy or receive donations from Three Square and other sources. At MOSES, Parker-Flowers started planning their vacation in September.
The Parker-Flowers and Macedonian Outreach Baptist Missionary Church Pantry regularly supports around 140 families through its weekly mobile pantry on Thursdays. But the week before Thanksgiving always brings more, so she said she had started stocking up on free non-perishables through Three Square a few weeks earlier.
Each week, she would order a maximum of five cases of corn, green beans, peaches, potatoes and other staples until she reached about two boxes or bags per family. At the same time, though unsure of how she would get turkeys, she turned to donors to sponsor a grocery gift card program.
But Three Square and other donors arrived with hundreds of birds to hand out, Parker-Flowers said. Thus, the gift cards – and any additional products stored – will be kept for Christmas. In total, she estimates that the pantry spent $ 2,500 on Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
“Have I not done good? She laughs.
About a dozen volunteers started packing the bindings Wednesday night ahead of the cast, she said. The same day, volunteers showed up at 6 a.m. to pack the non-perishable food. Then, the pre-registered families collected their ingredients from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church. The few remaining turkeys were given to those who did not register or taken to pre-assigned seniors or homebound families in need.
More than festive meals
Johnson takes pride in the balanced meals the food bank is able to provide. The association estimates that every dollar donated can provide three meals. But with about one in eight people in southern Nevada facing food insecurity according to Feeding America estimates, not everyone can receive a free holiday meal.
“When you think about the whole situation, being able to support these food insecure people with a holiday meal that they can actually sit around the table with their family and enjoy, that feeling. to support them, someone who loves them. especially during the holidays we are grateful to be in this position, ”he said. “The misfortune of hunger is not seasonal. Hunger is everyday.