The Oklahoma-based organizations below are just a few of the many that ease the burden of holiday expectations by providing ingredients, meals and camaraderie for a dinner to remember.
Since 2010, Iron Gate, a Tulsa-based organization that feeds the city’s hungry, has provided Thanksgiving dinner to 8,175 people through its partnership with Lawyers Fighting Hunger. The turkey-and-trimmings distribution began with the simple desire to make an impact and offer a community event filled with food and fun.
“We definitely try to alleviate the feeling of, ‘I’m standing in line to receive food,’” says Iron Gate executive director Carrie Vesely Henderson.
The COVID-19 pandemic simplified the celebratory affair into an orderly distribution: during its thrice weekly grocery pantry drive-through, Iron Gate handed out turkeys and bags filled with ingredients to make classic Thanksgiving side dishes.
Even still, Henderson says the distribution is impactful for both volunteers and guests. Oftentimes, recipients are overwhelmed by the generosity and remark that they wouldn’t have a dinner without Iron Gate. Many will invite their families over to enjoy the meal with them.
“It’s the power of the plate and providing a meal that we often take for granted,” says Henderson. “Even if it’s just for one meal, everything can be O.K.”
GET INVOLVED: Visit irongatetulsa.org to learn how you can volunteer and financially support Iron Gate, both during the holidays and year-round. Iron Gate always welcomes donations of paper and plastic grocery bags and pre-wrapped carry-out utensils.
The Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving Day meal is a long-standing tradition in Oklahoma City and at commands across the country. Many think of serving the homeless with this meal, but Greater OKC Area Commander Maj. Charles Powell says it’s also about community.
“We’re interested in bringing family together and creating community for those who may not have a family readily at hand,” says Powell. “This meal is about meeting not just physical needs in terms of food, but emotional needs in terms of community support and interaction.”
Just as in 2020, this year participants will remain outside while enjoying their to-go boxes piled high with turkey, dressing and classic sides.
Powell says feeding the community has consistently been something the Salvation Army is known for. He regards the event as a visual representation of meeting needs. Participants at the event would often otherwise spend the holiday alone.
“There are people out there that need help, and the Salvation Army’s here to try to help,” says Powell. “We become a conduit of the community’s concern for those in need.”
GET INVOLVED: Volunteers and financial support are needed to pull off this annual tradition. Learn more at salvationarmyokcac.org/ways-you-can-help.
The Homeless Alliance
When it comes to feeding a crowd, taste sometimes takes a back seat to quantity and efficiency. One Homeless Alliance volunteer noticed the turkeys for the annual Thanksgiving meal were cooked in advance, frozen, then reheated due to limited oven space. He set out to provide a more flavorful meal.
To do so, the Homeless Alliance partnered with Culinary Kitchen and Home in OKC to cook the dozens of turkeys in convection ovens just 48 hours ahead of the event. Volunteers worked around the clock (and through the night) to prepare juicy and fresh birds. Local eateries pitched in to provide restaurant-quality sides for the annual meal served the day before Thanksgiving.
“We just want to make sure that our guests feel special, they feel some nostalgia and get a really great, traditional meal,” says Kinsey Crocker, director of communications at the Homeless Alliance.
In 2019, the alliance partnered with Francis Tuttle Technology Center, which has a culinary program, and volunteers cooked the turkeys in its teaching kitchens. Last year, when COVID-19 protocols prohibited guests on campus, faculty and students stepped up to prepare the turkeys. The meals were served outdoors at the Homeless Alliance to allow for social distancing. Crocker says they’re planning for a similar, to-go-box-style arrangement this holiday season.
GET INVOLVED: The Homeless Alliance serves 250 guests daily at its shelter. Volunteers are always needed. With winter months drawing near, the Alliance is collecting hats, gloves, coats and blankets to help people stay warm. Learn more at homelessalliance.org.
Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma
Supporting those in need during the holidays doesn’t always look like a hot meal.
For a third year, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma will provide Holiday Helpings boxes through its existing school pantry partners in the greater Tulsa area. Clocking in at 7-10 pounds each, a Holiday Helpings box contains the shelf-stable items needed to feed a family of six for a holiday meal. Each box includes suggested recipes for ingredients, such as turkey stuffing casserole.
Regan Leake, development manager at the food bank, says the food boxes help lift some of the financial burden around the holidays. Receiving the shelf-stable items for free often means families can purchase a turkey.
“People in Oklahoma constantly struggle with whether to buy food or to pay their electric bill,” she says.
The food bank anticipates doubling the amount of boxes distributed this year from 300 to 600. Mustang Fuel is helping grow the program by providing a match for any monetary donations that the food bank receives.
GET INVOLVED: Each Holiday Helpings box costs $40, and volunteers are needed to assemble them. Visit okfoodbank.org/holiday-helpings to donate or sign up to pack boxes.