With less than a week to go before Thanksgiving, some Merced charities are scrambling to find food for the poor.
Herb Opalek, chief executive for the Merced Rescue Mission, said the nonprofit is starting to worry about having enough turkeys to feed the needy on Thanksgiving Day.
"We need about 245 turkeys, and we have only 54 so far," Opalek said.
The Rescue Mission fed about 3,260 people throughout the county last year. This year they’re looking at numbers closer to 5,200 people, Opalek said.
The county’s unemployment rate is about 16 percent, and that means more people will be looking for a full meal during the holidays. Opalek and his staff want to make sure that happens.
"We have had no stuffing, no cranberry sauce, no potatoes donated yet," he said. "We are down 27 percent in donations from this time last year."
The Rescue Mission isn’t the only nonprofit scratching for donations.
At the Merced County Food Bank, turkeys are scarcer than hens’ teeth. Phyllis Legg, executive director for the bank, said hardly any turkeys are coming into the bank.
"We would use about 1,000 birds if we gave to everyone who needs them," Legg said.
The food bank disperses food to 68 organizations throughout the county that feed the hungry. "A lot of those organizations wouldn’t be able to survive without us," Legg said.
Because of the slow donations, Legg isn’t very hopeful that enough turkeys will be available for Thanksgiving.
"We’re not going to make it for Thanksgiving; hopefully we will for Christmas," she said.
Mary Bigelow of the United Way said the biggest need in her organization is warm bodies.
"We need volunteers," she said. "We need 50 to 60 people to help sort the food." She added that she has seen a lot of volunteers coming forward this year and is glad to see that.
"Despite what a year this has been, I think people’s hearts are open," she said.
In the past, many of the bigger donors were real estate companies and car dealers. Because of the hit those companies took this year, their donations are much smaller this holiday season.
"We might get some cans compared to a case of food," Bigelow said.
Although any type of donation is welcome, Opalek said if people really want to help, cash is the best donation of all.
"I can buy turkeys much cheaper than the public can," Opalek said. "I get more drumstick for my buck."
Bigelow believes people will step up and donate this year despite hard times.
"We have all watched our friends and neighbors go through bad times last year and this year," Bigelow said. "It’s much more personal for a lot of people, and the holidays give them the opportunity to give."
Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or firstname.lastname@example.org