More than 6,000 people waited in winding lines up to 10 blocks long Monday morning to get a free Thanksgiving turkey and canned food from the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services in Oak Park.
"It's overwhelming," said Fredonia Phillips, 62, of Sacramento, as she surveyed the line stretching through the neighborhood. She had just picked up a 10-pound bird and two bags of side dishes, including canned vegetables, rice and boxes of mashed potatoes and stuffing.
Phillips, recently widowed, is struggling to take care of herself and her family.
"We are living in hard times," she said. "Grandparents are raising children. People are losing their jobs, children are moving back in with parents. People are banding together just to survive."
Kelly Siefkin, a food bank spokesperson, said the emergency food pantry was giving away more than 6,300 turkeys donated by individuals, businesses and government agencies during a turkey drive on Friday.
"We had people donating a turkey or two, we had soccer clubs, and baseball teams come and drop off turkeys, we had families coming after school with their children to donate turkeys," Siefkin said. The Sacramento County Probation Department donated 500 turkeys, while many office parks, hotels and other businesses donated 30 to 40 turkeys at a time.
This year's total of 6,309 donated turkeys was slightly more than last year's 6,023, but Wells Fargo Bank also pitched in 2,000 hams for distribution last year, pushing the donations to a total of 8,023, she said.
More than 100 volunteers, some of them from PG&E and AmeriCorps, worked to keep the line moving smoothly along sidewalks and across streets on Monday. Volunteers also helped translate, answer questions, bag and hand out food, and carry the groceries to vehicles.
"Everyone has been really appreciative," Siefkin said of the people waiting in line. The distribution began at 8 a.m. and ran until all the turkeys were gone.
Siefkin said many of the people getting turkeys are low-income, but not homeless.
"Most of the people we serve are the working poor, so many of these people have jobs, but it's not enough to make ends meet, or they are between jobs," she said.
One of those waiting in line was John Aders, 22, of Sacramento, who was unemployed before landing a job at Burger King about two months ago. He makes $8 an hour, he said.
"It's not enough to be able to buy a lot of food," Aders said. "It's almost impossible to live on a minimum wage."
He and his girlfriend, Sam Houston, 23, of Sacramento, had been waiting for about two hours and still had blocks to go to collect a turkey. Houston works for a Ross clothing store for $8 an hour. While both are scrambling to make rent and utilities, neither is on government aid, they said.
"To have this many people donate and help out at the holidays, it's awesome," Houston said. "We're really grateful for this."
Tamekia Barr, 39, waited in line for a turkey and fixings for the first time. Her family of nine, including Barr's elderly mother and a new baby, lives in a three-bedroom home in Sacramento.
"I couldn't get a turkey this year and pay our utility bill," Barr said. Still, the family plans to volunteer to cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local homeless shelter as a way to give back following a temporary stay at a shelter two years ago.
"We're thankful we're together," Barr said.
Fran Culley, 53, and her husband have been homeless for five months, following injuries to her leg and troubles with his lung. She leaned on a crutch while waiting for a turkey that she planned to take to a friend's house to cook on Thanksgiving Day.
"We've been staying at the river, and sometimes with friends," Culley said. "We're pretty excited to be celebrating this holiday. We feel blessed to get this donation."