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Serving More than Meals

Courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation

For millions of families across North America, Thanksgiving and Christmas mean more than just holidays and lots of food. They are special occasions bringing friends and family together to strengthen and renew relationships, create new friendships and celebrate great traditions. With this in mind, the holidays can be extraordinarily difficult for thousands of military men and women overseas.
Last year, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s volunteers decided these families would not be forgotten. The Kinni Gobblers chapter of River Falls, Wis., and the North Central Heartland chapter of Concordia, Kan. contacted their community’s local military bases and inquired about helping. These efforts were part of a national program, Turkey Hunters Care, created by the NWTF to provide frozen turkeys to less fortunate families during the holidays.
“We’re a new chapter looking to participate in a good cause within our community,” said Denny Moline, banquet coordinator of the Kinni Gobblers chapter, a group that donated 60 frozen turkeys to families of the River Falls National Guard. “We really wanted to show the families that we’re proud of our soldiers serving in Iraq and overseas.”
The same guard unit is on active duty until 2006. The Kinni Gobblers chapter will continue to support the troops’ families this year through the Turkey Hunters Care program.
Through the work of the North Central Heartland chapter, and with a generous donation of frozen turkeys from the local Wal-Mart, all of the families from a unit of the Kansas National Guard were invited to pickup complete Christmas dinners at the National Guard Armory.
“We had considered doing a Thanksgiving program, but we changed our minds when we realized how much Christmas meant to our military families,” said Roger Demanette of the North Central Heartland chapter. “We heard that many of these families were not planning to celebrate Christmas because their loved ones were so far away. More than a few of the soldiers of that battalion were current or past members of our chapter. We knew these people personally. It just wasn’t right for any family to ever miss Christmas.”
About 40 families showed up for the event and something special happened. Instead of people lining up, picking up their food and leaving, they sat together. Families talked and shared their fears and experiences of missing loved ones. Smiles and laughter soon replaced the loneliness and sadness. By the end of the evening, families felt less alone and their fears were soon replaced by hope.
“It was very moving to see the community come together,” said Demanette. “Many families decided to go ahead and celebrate Christmas. Others put the turkey in the freezer and celebrated Christmas in February, when the battalion returned home.”
For many months afterward, soldiers and their families sent letters and cards, personally thanking the chapter for helping them through the holidays. The North Central Heartland chapter plans to do more for military families during the 2005 holiday season.
“The Turkey Hunters Care program is so successful and continues to grow every year because of our great volunteer leaders who organize and motivate countless others in their community,” said Dick Rosenlieb, the NWTF’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Each year the number of turkeys donated across the United States and in Canada increases. According to Rosenlieb, chapters may donate 15,000 frozen domestic turkeys this year.
“Several of our chapters have expanded this program by giving frozen turkeys to families during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Kim Saxon, Turkey Hunters Care program coordinator. “Other chapters joined with local schools and organizations to provide families with baskets filled with turkey stuffing, canned vegetables, pie and rolls to make a complete meal.”
In 2004 NWTF volunteers in the United States and Canada donated more than 12,500 turkeys to charities, food banks, homeless shelters, nursing homes and families. The NWTF is proud of its volunteers and how well turkey hunters care for their communities.
“Being part of the NWTF means more than just being part of an organization. It means being part of the community. And our volunteers truly recognize the importance of supporting their community,” said NWTF CEO Rob Keck. “It is amazing how our volunteers can feed the needy, combat loneliness, and bring hope to the human spirit---one frozen turkey at a time.”
For more information or to participate in Turkey Hunters Care, call the National Wild Turkey Federation, 1-800-THE-NWTF, or visit the NWTF Web site,

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