Turkey's not only for Thanksgiving at the Stephen Center in South Omaha.
Gobblers given in November become gifts that keep giving for 52 weeks a year, helping feed the nightly population of about 100 at the center's homeless shelter, and the 64 next door in an addiction treatment program.
Turkey tetrazzini in December. Turkey pot pie in January. Turkey lasagna in February. Turkey caesar salad in July. Turkey-noodle casserole in September. Monthly turkey dinners. Weekly (or more) turkey soup.
"We live on it all year round," said Del Bomberger, who runs the South Omaha shelter. "It's one of our usual food sources, a major source of protein."
Usually by this time of year, donors have delivered 50 turkeys to the Stephen Center, en route to a total of 150 or 200 birds. But by Thursday, a week out from Thanksgiving, only five birds had landed to cool their drumsticks in the center's freezers.
So you can see why Bomberger, who's known in social service circles for not being a "sky-is-falling" kind of guy, has been a little nervous recently walking into the walk-in.
"It would be a real challenge if they did not come in," he said.
Bomberger said high turkey prices and steeper grocery costs in general probably slowed turkey donations this year, along with an economy still tight for many. Earlier this month, whole turkeys sold for $1.20 a pound or more in many Nebraska stores, nearly 30 cents more than in 2010. Last week, the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual Thanksgiving price survey found that a 16-pound turkey would cost Nebraskans about $4 more than in 2010.
But as Thanksgiving approaches, turkey prices, though still higher than in 2010, have declined. In metro Omaha, several supermarkets this week are advertising whole turkeys for 59 to 99 cents a pound, usually with a minimum purchase of $25.
On Friday morning, the Siena-Francis House shelter in Omaha also was low on turkeys for this time of year. They were down to 26, with 20 destined for the shelter's Thanksgiving dinner.
A company's usual, annual donation of about 100 birds had not arrived. But on Friday afternoon, that donation, from Werner Enterprises, rolled up in a semi to the Siena-Francis dock, said Tim Sully, the shelter's development director. On board were 130 turkeys.
Having heard from a reporter of the Stephen Center's concerns, Siena-Francis offered to share.
Leaders at both shelters said they remain appreciative of donors' generosity, and hopeful that more turkeys would come. Turkey given by people and corporations during this time of feasting is one of the main ways the shelters augment meals provided and prepared by church groups and other donors. That helps them feed a lot of people on a little money.
Ric Couch, the Stephen Center's food services director, said post-Turkey Day turkey uses involve much more than leftovers and sandwiches.
"It's more than ideal," he said. "It's high in protein, low in fat, and you can make just about anything out of it."
At Siena-Francis, turkey "is a staple, because it goes a long way," Sully said.
Most of the Stephen Center's turkey donors are individuals, such as an anonymous man who fills his truck bed with turkeys each November and takes them to shelters. Many turkeys come from people who buy their own family's main T-Day attraction, then pick up a second to donate.
Bomberger can understand why families feeling pinched might be reluctant to purchase an extra turkey this year. He belongs to a Kiwanis club that gives out holiday dinner baskets. They had to reduce the number of baskets this year because the cost of each went up from $45 to $65, he said.
At the Open Door Mission, 2,697 turkeys had been donated by Friday for that shelter's Thanksgiving holiday meals — those to be delivered Saturday, and those to be cooked and served later, said Candace Gregory, chief executive officer. She said about 500 more turkeys are needed.
Donations are level from last year, but the need has risen, Gregory said.
The Food Bank for the Heartland, food supplier for pantries in Nebraska and part of western Iowa, is seeing much greater need. Officials there ordered 5,000 turkeys back in the spring, and when they made them available recently, they were spoken for in 20 minutes, said Susan Ogborn, the Food Bank's executive director. They've ordered 1,000 roasting chickens to help those who missed out.
"It's all about the increase in need, but it's also the increased cost of things," Ogborn said.
At the Stephen Center, Bomberger asked people who go out shopping this weekend for their own Thanksgiving feast to consider picking up something to donate for the needy.
"I can understand how people might think twice about that extra turkey," he said. "But that makes the need all the greater for the people at the margins."
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