More than 200 families can enjoy a Thanksgiving meal Thursday, thanks to the collaboration of two community groups committed to serving the needy.
The Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry partnered with Wal-Mart to distribute the makings of Thanksgiving dinner and all the trimmings Tuesday to area residents in need.
Wal-Mart donated 200 frozen turkeys so GHCCM clients will have a free, warm meal to enjoy Thanksgiving Day. The turkeys were packaged in a reusable Wal-Mart bag also stocked with stuffing mix, cranberry sauce and canned yams.
A line of hundreds of people snaked around the corner of the GHCCM building Tuesday as recipients waited for their free turkeys. The people who received turkeys Tuesday got food from GHCCM in the past, and they were pre-screened to ensure they were eligible for the giveaway. Qualified recipients formed a line as much as two hours before the distribution was scheduled to start.
The large crowd is representative of the county's need for crisis intervention services, said Dr. Roger Baker, GHCCM executive director.
The ministry experienced a 160 percent increase in request for crisis intervention services since last year.
"We know the need is there," Baker said. "(The food) is going out just as fast as we can get it in."
Margaret Cushman, 86, of Hickory, was the first person in line.
"I get to enjoy Thanksgiving now," Cushman said about receiving a turkey.
Cushman, who moved to Hickory about two years ago from Florida, said most people would be surprised to learn how many people in the area go hungry every day. She receives meals from GHCCM once a month.
Wal-Mart contacted Rep. Patrick McHenry because they wanted to do a turkey giveaway in the Catawba County area. Baker said McHenry suggested GHCCM as a partner in the turkey distribution and was "key" in organizing the event.
McHenry attended Tuesday's giveaway and wished each person a happy Thanksgiving as he handed them a bag laden with the makings of Thanksgiving dinner.
"This is a blessing from Jesus," said Martha Farris, of Hickory, as she received a turkey donation. "All blessings come from him."
GHCCM also collected an additional 134 turkeys, for a total of more than 300 turkeys distributed.
Volunteers from Wal-Mart and GHCCM spent about 90 minutes assembling the bags.
"It didn't take us that long," Baker said. "We had an assembly line going."
GHCCM relies on more than 300 volunteers to help the ministry operate in a difficult economy and keep expenses down. About 93 cents of every dollar the ministry receives will provide services for GHCCM clients.
GHCCM distributes about 1 million pounds of food annually, and each food distribution bag weighs about 65 pounds.
Tuesday's turkey distribution is part of Wal-Mart's Community Action Network, which commits volunteer support and services for more than 100,000 charity organizations nationwide.
"We feel like it's very important to give back to the community," said David Cruse, Wal-Mart's area marketing manager. "We're part of the community."