Thousands of free turkeys put in hands of needy in a Sacramento Food Bank tradition

Thousands of people lined up in Oak Park on Monday for a Thanksgiving dinner from Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services.

Hauling bags stuffed with turkeys and all the trimmings, the happy recipients first stood in lines that wrapped around the block. First in line was M.S. Cokley, who carted away her Thanksgiving dinner.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Cokley, a student who lives downtown. “I’m praying that next year I will donate and volunteer here. I don’t have any food this year. This is all I have.”

Each family received one turkey, either fresh or frozen, in a reusable tote bag. Families also were given two bags of side dishes that included potatoes, stuffing, rice, beans, canned vegetables, soup, gravy, pasta, sauce and fruit.

The giveaway has grown through the years.

In 2008, 2,766 turkeys were collected in food drives, according to the organization. A turkey drive on Friday brought in 13,067, and, on Sunday, Foster Farms donated an additional 1,770 for a total of 14,837.

About 4,000 were to be placed in the hands of the needy at the Monday giveaway in Oak Park.

The food bank also will send turkeys to its 100-plus partner agencies, and those agencies distribute the birds. The food bank was founded 1976 by the Rev. Daniel Madigan.

“So turkeys go out in every direction from Saturday through Thanksgiving,” said Kelly Siefkin, who heads communications for the food bank. “Places such as Loaves and Fishes will cook the turkeys and serve a meal. Other small food programs will do distributions of the turkeys. Our goal is to stretch all of the turkeys from the communitywide food drive to all corners of Sacramento County.”

Billy Edwards said he rode his bike to the giveaway. He said the food bank helps people who really need it.

“I wouldn’t have Thanksgiving without it,” Edwards said. “I’m on Social Security. It comes in handy.”

Plenty of Pacific Gas and Electric employees and high school volunteers were on hand to keep the lines moving. PG&E also paid for the tote bags that became a part of the giveaway five years ago.

Volunteer interpreters also helped with any needed translation.

Tony Schneider, who two years ago was a volunteer monitoring the line, is now on the staff of the food bank as volunteer services coordinator. His time as a volunteer on the line opened his eyes to who needs help at Thanksgiving.

“Some people here have to face the choice of keeping a roof over their family’s heads or providing food,” he said. “They went with providing the roof, so then they needed the food. Others, just faced hard times with the economy. Folks from all walks of are coming through the line for all different reasons.”

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews