LINE STARTS EARLY TO PICK UP A BIRD
Faith Food Fridays hands out 800 turkeys
At 5 a.m. Friday, it was dark. And quiet. And yes, said Victor Johnson, “it was real cold.”
Johnson wanted to beat the rush for a 35-pound box of groceries and 10-pound turkey and when the doors opened at Faith Food Fridays. Five hours later, he was still smiles as the first one in line, though, admittedly, he sat in his car until 7 a.m. to avoid the chill.
“My wife wanted me to come down and get one,” Johnson said of the complimentary birds.
Besides, a nice Thanksgiving meal will be welcomed by Johnson’s six grand-children.
Not that they require a turkey.
“They’ll be happy, anyway,” Johnson said. “But my wife will be happy” with the turkey.
The line remained organized and peaceful all day Friday at the 826 Solano Ave. location, with Faith Food Fridays board president Benjamin Buggs barking out directions, welcoming people inside 15 to 20 at a time.
“So far, so good,” Buggs said an hour in. “It’s a little bit more organized than last year.”
Buggs said while he “didn’t sleep like a baby” Thursday night, he did dream about the food box and turkey distribution.
“It’s all I dream about,” Buggs said. “That and trying to dunk a basketball, which I can’t do.”
He can, however, organize the annual turkey giveaway that’s grown every year for nine years.
Fred Ray III, a friend of Buggs for 40 years, drove down from Stockton to volunteer and support the cause.
“I never thought I’d be doing something like this but I like it. I’m in on giving food to the less fortunate. It’s fun to help people out.”
— River Denning, volunteer
“It’s well worth it,” Ray said. “Look what we’re doing. It’s such a blessing, that giving part is what I love. You see the smiles on people’s faces walking out with the meal. I feel great when I do this.”
It’s Ray’s second year helping his long-time friend as he watched Buggs admiringly.
“It was a shock to me with Ben coming into the ministry 10 years ago. A shock, but not surprising,” Ray said. “He’s always been a leader.”
After Buggs leads the small groups into the building, they are led to chairs in a circle with Benjamin welcoming them, insisting that women let volunteers carry their food boxes and that men should be able to carry their own “unless they are disabled.”
“We don’t force religion on anybody, but would anyone like a copy of The Daily Bread?” asked Buggs, with most of the first group raising their hands for the devotional booklet.
The groups then formed a single line, getting handed a box of food before walking to the front of the building where Walmart employees and Faith Food Fridays volunteers handed out JennieO turkeys from a truck.
Walmart employee Lindsey Geiskopf took one of her days off to volunteer, along with Walmart operations director Derek Phelps and driver Rick Fultz.
“I think it’s a great thing to do for the community,” Geiskopf said. “And it’s good for the company to have employees volunteer even if their not on the clock.”
Geiskopf brought her two kids, 11 and 14, along to volunteer.
“I think it’s important to be grateful for what we have,” she said. “And I think the more (all) kids do this, it might change humanity as they get older. Doing this makes me feel appreciative of what we have. A lot of these people (being served) can’t afford turkeys.”
“It’s a blessing to be able to give to others,” said Fultz, in his third turkey distribution at Faith Food Fridays.
Fultz is thrilled being responsible for 800 turkeys finding their way into the homes of the needy.
“I get to play Santa Claus,” he said smiling.
The volunteers inside the facility were equally grateful for the day, even the ones who have themselves fallen on challenging times.
Rick Plumley lost his job of 16 years with Pacific Auto Salvage six months ago. He gratefully accepted help from Faith Food Fridays and after painting much of the building’s interior recently, volunteered to help the food box assembly line.
“Times were tough and I came down here,” Plumley said. “They helped me out when I needed a little food.”
Plumley expected to be weary lifting food boxes all day. No matter.
“I don’t mind helping out people,” he said.
Another volunteer, River Denning, 32, also lost work recently when he was laid off from his boilermaker’s union job.
“I never thought I’d be doing something like this but I like it,” Denning said. “I’m in on giving food to the less fortunate. It’s fun to help people out. It makes me feel better about my days.”
It was 69-year-old Bill Zurner’s third turkey distribution and he said it was “hard to put into a single word” why he does it.
“It’s just something that needs to be done and it feels good to be able to step into a role with a bunch of good people,” Zurner said. “How often do you get to be in a room with a bunch of good people?”
Those in need, for the most part, “are pretty grateful,” Zurner said. “For some, it’s hard to admit that you can’t provide your own needs, so it’s tough. But we get that.”
Turkey on Thanksgiving “is most important,” said Martin Bullock, waiting his turn for a food box. “You always want to make sure Thanksgiving .. and Christmas … that everyone’s happy.”
The symbol of turkey on Thanksgiving “is unity,” Bullock added. “Everybody is at the table together.”
Mary Ann Buggs, Benjamin’s wife and co-founder of Faith Food Fridays, estimated that 40 to 50 percent of those coming through — at least after the first 100 — were seniors on a fixed income.
“Typically, there’s no family around,” she said.
It took about four years into the Thanksgiving project before Faith Food Fridays zeroed in a format,
Mary Ann said.
Before that, “it was mayhem,” she said. “Every year’s a learning process. This year we tell people no matter what time they got here, they’d get the exact same food box as the people who were here at 5 a.m.” It worked.
“There was not 200 people waiting for us at 7 when we got here, which is a good thing,” she said.
Buggs said her husband “is excited as I am” when the turkey distribution begins.
“We just want to bless everyone with a good, healthy Thanksgiving dinner,” she said, equally grateful that her husband is a takecharge guy.
“It comes in handy,” she said. “You can’t get anything past him.”
The “normal” food giveaway at Faith Food Fridays returns this coming Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. There is no food giveaway the day after Thanksgiving.
Walmart employee Lindsey Geiskopf volunteered on her day off to help distribute turkeys, with a Faith Food Fridays assisting one of the 800 people who came out for the free birds.
Faith Food Fridays coordinator Benjamin Buggs helps with a box of food at the turkey giveaway Friday.
Fred Ray III was Benjamin Buggs’ “gofer” Friday, helping out wherever he was needed.