They came in cars and trucks and minivans. From all around town, they rolled up to the Stephen Center homeless shelter and opened their tailgates, their passenger doors, their trunks, and emerged bearing frozen turkeys.
Two elementary school-age girls delivered 28 turkeys and four hams they had collected in their Dundee neighborhood. A woman who already had been collecting donated food at a west Omaha Baker's Supermarket ended up with many more canned goods than expected, and gobblers, too.
Del Bomberger, the shelter CEO who had appealed for help because supplies were low, would have stood and watched with amazement, had he not been busy helping the brigade of shelter staff, guests and donors carry in the birds.
"They came in ones, and twos, and 15s, and 20s, even 40s," Bomberger said. "They just kept coming. We're at just over 600 turkeys. We ran out of storage space. We had to prop the freezer door shut. It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen."
The parade began Friday. The World-Herald had reported that turkey donations had been unusually slow at the Stephen Center, and Bomberger was worried. Turns out that turkeys donated around Thanksgiving help to feed the hungry all year at the Stephen Center, 27th and Q Streets, and other shelters too.
The Food Bank of the Heartland also was running short on holiday turkeys because of increased need.
Usually, 50 turkeys would have been donated by mid-November, en route to a total of 150 to 200 over the holidays. But only five had come in by last week.
Bomberger, who's known for avoiding the panic button, knew the community would respond if he asked. But the volume of the response blew him away.
"It was so ... I just don't have words for it," Bomberger said. "It was just so heartfelt, and just such an instant response of human nature. We are extremely grateful. Our immediate need has been met, and we'll be able to share with other shelters and individuals in a greater way than previously possible."
All the turkeys will go to feed hungry people, mainly the nightly population of men, women and children at the Stephen Center's emergency shelter, and the 64 low-income people in addiction treatment next door.
The Stephen Center also will share turkeys with other agencies. Some birds made a nice surprise for families who showed up in recent days at the Stephen Center, seeking leftovers from the shelter's perishables to help with their Thanksgiving at home.
Forty people who had gone there hoping for day-old bread left with turkeys.
Meanwhile, Todd Becker, CEO of Green Plains Renewable Energy, read about the turkey shortage and decided to donate 500 of the big birds to the Food Bank. They'll be given to families in the Nebraska towns of Central City and Ord, as well as Shenandoah, Iowa, said Susan Ogborn, Food Bank president.
"And I bet we've had 20 people walk in with turkeys since Friday," Ogborn said.
Of course, corporations, supermarkets, religious congregations and individuals make donations all year long that help agencies feed the hungry.
"This community responds so well, if you just tell them what's needed and how they can go about meeting that need," Ogborn said.
Sisters Emalie and Meg Wightman asked their mother, Anna Castner Wightman, if they could help. They ended up making two trips to the Stephen Center. On the first trip, they took two turkeys.
On the ride home to Dundee, Emalie, 9, and Meg, 7, students at Brownell-Talbot School, started cooking up a plan in the back seat to help the children and others they had seen at the shelter.
"We decided we wanted to do more," Emalie said. "I thought that since I get so much for Thanksgiving, that they kind of needed more, too."
They asked their mother if they could do a neighborhood turkey drive. She agreed. The three made fliers on the computer.
"It said 'Turkeys Wanted,'" Meg said.
"They started going door-to-door in our neighborhood," Wightman said. "They did all the knocking, and I monitored from the sidewalk."
They went back to the shelter with the turkeys, hams and armloads of stuffed animals their grandmother had stored. Shelter guests helped unload.
"It was cool meeting everybody there, and the kids," Meg said.
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