NEWBURYPORT — The Salvation Army is facing a significant shortage of turkeys as demand for the group’s annual Thanksgiving assistance program this year has spiked compared to a year ago.
Jeff Brunelle, lieutenant of the Newburyport chapter of the Salvation Army, said the group currently has only 65 donated turkeys for the distribution, half of what’s needed to meet demand. Brunelle said he already has 128 families signed up, and he expects that number to grow in the next week leading up to Tuesday’s distribution to needy families.
“Last year we had 139 families that we provided the turkey dinners to for them to take home and cook for dinner,” Brunelle said. “This year we already have 128 signed up and Thanksgiving is not until next week, so we expect to have more.”
At this point last year, only 100 families had signed up before another 39 registered during the last week before the holiday. If a similar rush happens this year, the Salvation Army could need another 100 birds to meet demand.
As a result, Brunelle is reaching out to the community to help the organization meet its goal. Anyone who can donate a turkey, or a coupon or check to buy one, is encouraged to contribute.
Despite the tall numbers, rushing to meet Thanksgiving turkey shortages is nothing new for the Salvation Army. Because turkeys can’t be collected months ahead of time like canned food and other non-perishables can be at food drives, there tends to be a mad rush in the month of November.
“They don’t collect them months ahead of time because they’re frozen, they won’t be any good,” Brunelle said. “So what they do is the day of the distribution, if they’re going to provide the turkeys, they’ll make sure we get them the day we distribute them so they’re fresh.”
In the past, the Salvation Army has benefited from large donations from local businesses, either in the form of food, grocery store coupon vouchers or checks that can be used to buy food.
“In some instances when we run short, we’re able to use some of that money to fill in the gaps of what we’re missing,” Brunelle said.
The Salvation Army has been providing Thanksgiving dinners to local residents every year for decades. The organization provides full meals beyond just turkeys too, including mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and other holiday staples. Families who register will be able to visit the organization’s headquarters at 40 Water St., where the food will be laid out in a grocery store format, and they can pick out the types of food they want.
“It’s a good system. We’ve found its more personal rather than just packaging up a box and handing it to them,” Brunelle said. “Now they get to spend time with a personal shopper who helps them select items, who helps carry them out to the car and who provides a more personal touch that way.”
In order to be eligible, families who register must meet certain income requirements and live within the Salvation Army’s service area. The Newburyport branch services Newburyport, Newbury, West Newbury, Salisbury and Amesbury, and those who register can also choose to register for the organization’s Christmas meal too.
Brunelle said there is cooperation between the Salvation Army and other local organizations, such as Our Neighbors’ Table in Amesbury, to ensure that their resources are spread as efficiently across the greatest number of people in need as possible.
With just over a week to go until Thanksgiving Day, Brunelle said he is confident the community will do its part to ensure everyone will be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal, even if it takes until the last minute.
“We’re grateful to the community because whenever people have come to us in need, this community has stepped up and really done its part to make sure that nobody has to be turned away because there isn’t enough to help,” Brunelle said. “We’re grateful that’s been the history and we’re hopeful we’ll be able to meet those same needs this season.”
The Salvation Army is located at 40 Water St. It can be contacted at 978-465-0883.