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In November 1621, the Wampanoag Indians and the Plymouth colonists shared an autumn harvest feast known as the “first Thanksgiving” celebration. Celebrated for two centuries by colonies and states before President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it a national holiday in 1863, amid the Civil War. Today, Thanksgiving centers on cooking up a feast with various filling foods including the most important food item—turkey.

For most people it’s a time to share a bountiful meal with family and friends, but it is also a time where food banks appeal for extra help as food supplies deplete greatly during the holidays. Within Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties—all served by the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina—there is an alarming number of people at the risk of hunger. Out of 67,419 people living under the poverty line, 20,600 are children and 5,431 are aged 65 or over.

Spearheaded by Jai Issear, the Street Turkeys of Wilmington started six years ago by the men’s Bible study group and the outreach committee at Wrightsville United Methodist Church. They’re aim is to restock the food banks for the holidays. The Wilmington branch supplies food to just under 100 area food pantries, group homes, shelters and soup kitchens. They hope to find support from people around the community, who can help by making donations to feed the hungry.

“The face of hunger has changed,” Jeff Rose, Wilmington branch director of the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC, explains. “A life event, like divorce, a layoff or a major illness, can change a person’s financial status overnight. It could be me or even you who has an emergency and needs a little help to get through a rough spot. [Food] is a daily need in our community, not a seasonal one.”

While the work the food bank does proves challenging, it does have its rewards. “Knowing this event, like many others, supports our mission—No One Goes Hungry in Central and Eastern North Carolina—is humbling,” Rose states.

Between the soup kitchens, pantries, shelters and group homes, the food bank has seen an 11 percent increase in people needing emergency food assistance compared to last year’s figures. “The need typically increases in the summer, as nearly 31,000 children in the Wilmington service area who receive free or reduced school meals are out of school,” Rose explains.

In previous years Street Turkeys collected around 8,000 to 9,000 pounds of food and several thousand dollars. During the fiscal 2012 and 2013 year,10,000 volunteer hours got recorded by the Wilmington branch. The men’s Bible study group from Wrightsville United Methodist does their best to encourage members of the church to volunteer during the event. Getting the message out to educate the community on the issue of hunger is almost as essential as getting people to make donations. Most samaritans who get involved with the food bank through volunteering or food drives help spread the word on hunger and the impact around the community. Their championing of the cause is evidenced by the increase in assistance with the Street Turkeys event.

“The community has always been very supportive of the food bank, but still donations go out the door as fast as they come in,” Rose notes. “Distribution at the Wilmington branch has experienced a 39 percent growth over the last four years.”

The Wilmington branch distributed a record 6.6 million pounds and provided approximately 5.5 million meals to those in need in 2013. Street Turkeys is just one of many beneficiary events the food bank organizes garner support. Another is their annual Turkey Trot, a Thanksgiving race taking place November 28th and hosted by the Cape Fear Center of Inquiry. The 5K and 1-mile fun run takes place at Wrightsville Beach Park with an awards ceremony afterward. Also in November, they will hold a benefit concert on November 23rd at 1790 Queen Anne Street at Sunset Beach.

“These events are crucially important,” Rose informs, “as they help educate the public that there are real issues right here in our backyards that are too often out of sight and out of mind.”

Folks can donate a slew of items, including: drinks (water, juices, sports drinks); canned stews; frozen turkeys and hams; soups; tuna; ravioli; peanut butter; cereal; canned fruit and vegetables; rice; pasta; dried beans; infant formula; diapers and wipes and cleaning products. No glass please. Monetary contributions are also welcome; $1 provides up to five meals. There are a number of people whom are one event away from needing emergency food assistance. “These are folks who are choosing between putting food on the table, or paying a light bill,” Rose laments.

Aside from The Landing in Wrightsville Beach, drop off points will be available at Harris Teeter locations, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Street Turkeys
Wed., 11/27, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The Landing in Wrightsville Beach
530 Causeway Dr.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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