LINE STARTS EARLY TO PICK UP A BIRD

Faith Food Fri­days hands out 800 tur­keys

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Richard Freed­man rfreed­[email protected]­al­don­line.com @rich­freed­man­vth on Twit­ter

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.

RICH FREED­MAN — TIMES-HER­ALD

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.

PHO­TOS BY RICH FREED­MAN — TIMES-HER­ALD

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.

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