For many food banks, Thanksgiving turkey is hard to find

November 07, 2016

Thanksgiving is traditionally a day for families to gather and reflect on their good fortunes while seated around a roasted turkey. But for many food banks in the United States, it's also the day of the year when they are least likely to serve it.

"We used to purchase turkeys," said Michael McKee, CEO of Blue Ridge Food Bank in Verona, Va. "But the numbers of people seeking assistance climbed so high in recent years that we were distributing turkeys to a fraction of the people seeking help and we were spending a fortune doing it."

As with flowers on Valentine's Day, the increased demand for turkey at Thanksgiving drives up its market price. As a result, food banks have found they can stretch their limited resources and feed more families by purchasing less-expensive alternatives like chicken instead.

"Ultimately, we discontinued making those [turkey] purchases and focused instead on all the other elements of the traditional Thanksgiving meal," McKee said. "We try to make the rest of the holiday abundant and then rely on donations to provide turkey if we can."

Those donations have become an annual tradition for many companies in the food industry. Cargill's donation this week of more than 30,000 pounds of turkey is just one example.

“As families gather together to celebrate this bountiful year, it is hard to believe that one in four families in Northwest Arkansas will not have a Thanksgiving meal,” said Carrie Harlow, director of development at Northwest Arkansas Food Bank, which is receiving 15,000 donated turkeys.

McKee stressed that hunger doesn't go away when the holidays end. For many, finding a way to both heat their home and feed their family is a challenge they face every day. But making that challenge easier for even one day can make a big difference.

"No one wants to explain to their child that they can't have thanksgiving dinner because they don't have any food," McKee said. "It's Thanksgiving for everyone, including people who are food insecure."

Learn more about Cargill's holiday turkey donations here.