Thanksgiving is coming up, and that means a lot of great things for families. Food, football games, seeing distant relatives, and remembering what we are thankful for. But not all families get the best feelings when the holidays roll around. Some are more worried about not being able to provide a meal due to financial hardship. Bills, the loss of a job… there are many things that can make funds tight. And it often takes front seat in a person’s mind while the holidays, which used to bring fun and joyous memories, now bring only sadness.
That’s where 500 Turkeys comes in to lift some of the burden. 500 Turkeys is a nonprofit organization that feeds food and faith to the families of Northwest Indiana and beyond. The founder and president is Jeni Bolton, and she said that the ministry began in 2009 after she opened a Kingdom Worker Card.
“I was at a Christ in Youth Conference helping out the teenagers. We were each given cards that had suggestions on them on how we can be better stewards of Christ,” Jeni said. “Once you open the card you are committed. When I opened my card it read ‘Feed 500 families for Thanksgiving'.”
Jeni wasn’t sure how to take this on, so she prayed about it. She mentioned it at her Bible study group one day and they offered to help her come up with ideas. The thought of feeding 500 families seemed like a daunting task, and Jeni wasn’t sure how she was going to do it. Two days later at a church service something interesting happened.
“I wasn’t there because I was having back issues. My friend called me up and told me that an anonymous person left an envelope in the collection plate,” Jeni said. “Inside the envelope was a $20 bill that had the word ‘TURKEYS’ written across it. No one in my Bible study group did it or told anyone about it so to this day I still don’t know who it was.”
From there, Jeni took this as a sign from God of what she needed to do. And she did it. The first year 500 Turkeys successfully fed 500 families and each year after that the number of families increased. Things began in Life Bridge Christian Church, but this year Valparaiso Nazarene Church opened up their space to the nonprofit because it’s grown so much.
“We totalled up the cost for everything that it took to make one Thanksgiving meal and it came to $20,” Jeni said, thinking back on the anonymous donation.
“500 Turkeys is much more than just feeding families,” Jeni continued. “It’s not just the people who are getting the meals, it’s the volunteers. It’s a great way for people to get involved. You can donate food or money, come and volunteer to hand out meals. We really depend on God and the community to make this happen.”
So how does a family get a meal with 500 Turkeys? You have to register. This year’s registration is already full but you can join the wait list.
There are no requirements or standards to be met in order to get a Thanksgiving meal from 500 Turkeys. If you feel you need a little help with the coming holidays and you want to provide your family with a great meal, then go register.
“We don’t turn anyone away. We have people all across the tri-county area come to us, some even drive from Illinois,” Jeni said. “We go on the honor system here. And sometimes we’ll have people call us up and tell us to give their meal to someone else because they got a job and can now afford to buy their own meal, or they will be going to a relatives for Thanksgiving, or other reasons. We work with wonderful families and we’re happy to be able to help them.”
On top of the meal, which is the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes etc., 500 Turkeys has been blessed to be able to give monetarily to the families who get meals.
“We get food and monetary donations, and if there is money left over we will divide it up and put it onto gift cards and hand them out to families. It’s normally around $5 and the families can use it to go get the extras that they need for their dinner like milk, butter, or eggs,” Jeni said.
Jeni’s sister, Becky Wilkie, added to the giving by starting her own initiative called Clothes N Prayers. Clothing is collected, cleaned, inspected, and then distributed for free to the families who receive meals from 500 Turkeys.
“I’ve been blown away by what God has provided,” Jeni said. “Nothing is ever as I expect it. It’s sometimes beyond my comprehension about how great He is.”
The 2015 Sponsors for 500 Turkeys are:
Bounce 'N' Around
Coffee Creek Watershed Preserve
Domino’s Pizza of NWI
Life Bridge Christian Church
RMC d.b.a. McDonald’s
Team Chevy, Valparaiso
Valparaiso Nazarene Church
And the list of supporters is even longer. There are about 107 supporters that help 500 Turkeys provide food and faith to families. Click here to read that list!
If you would like to volunteer with 500 Turkeys, sign up! They are in need of volunteers for multiple days and events including:
Clothes N Prayers Set-Up Saturday – Nov 14 1pm-7pm
Family Food Boxing Nights Monday & Tuesday November 16 & 17 6pm-8pm
Meal Gift Distribution Saturday, November 21 11am – 6pm Sunday, November 22 2pm – 6pm