Turkey giveaway programs say donations are down

A worker uses a forklift to move donated turkeys at the Bay Area Rescue Mission on Nov. 19, 2012 in Richmond, Calif.

The days leading up to Thanksgiving are filled with 'free turkey' giveaways from local businesses and nonprofits. And with the economy still bumping along, people are lining up to get any help they can to put a traditional Thanksgiving meal on the table. But while demand for free turkey is up, donations are down.

Thousands of people lined up in South Los Angeles for an annual turkey giveaway by a local business. Andrea Benavidez says she's been in line for two hours, but the atmosphere has been fun and festive. The 20-year-old came with her dad, Ozzy, who said the family is barely making ends meet on his Social Security check and that buying a Thanksgiving turkey was not an option.

"Who knows what we would have done, ham sandwiches maybe," he says with a laugh.

Jackson Limousine in South L.A. has organized this turkey giveaway for 30 years. But it almost didn't happen because this year donations were low until the last minute.

Across the country in Lawrence, Mass., Julia Polanco says her nonprofit, Food for the World, is having the same problem. Last year, they had 2,000 turkeys donated. This year, they received just over a thousand.

"We started giving them out at 9 o'clock," says Polanco, "and at 12:30, we were already done."

She adds that she's now giving away chickens because they're available and they're cheaper because they weigh less. "You know I'd rather see them with a chicken than no turkey at all," says Polanco. "At least they have something to eat and I feel proud because I'm at least able to help someone."

Julia Polanco says she's not exactly sure why donations were down, but blames the economy. Turkey prices are up this year by a modest 3 percent according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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