She fed two thousand and eight hundred families in the past five years, has collected over thirteen thousand pounds of food items in the past two years, and has donated countless hours in order to help the community. And to think, it all started with a challenge:
In 2009, Jeni Bolton attended a youth conference. At the end of the week, the children that attended were given a challenge: to serve the community. To aide in the challenge, one hundred cards were filled out with suggestions and each card was sealed in an envelope. Each child picked out a random envelope, as did Jeni.
“The adults didn’t have to pick a card, but I wanted to, so I did,” Jeni said
They were all instructed not to open the envelope until they were absolutely sure that they were going to do whatever was on the card. They were told that whichever card they picked was what God intended them to do. So, as any wise person would, Jeni prayed. When she was ready, and felt sure that this was truly what God wanted of her, she opened the envelope. The card read: ‘500 Turkeys: Raise enough money to provide turkeys for 500 families this Thanksgiving.’ Challenge accepted.
“About a week later, I still wasn’t sure how I was going to feed 500 families. I talked to a few friends and God gave us the confirmation that: ‘All I want you to do is move forward and I am going to provide what you need.’ And we have just had blessing after blessing ever since,” Jeni said.
The challenge could be perceived as simply providing turkeys for families who couldn’t have one for the holidays, but Jeni took it farther. 500 Turkeys doesn’t just provide a turkey, they provide a whole Thanksgiving meal.
“When I grew up I was hungry, and we were really, really poor. We didn’t have a full Thanksgiving spread and there were times that Mom had to work because we didn’t even have the money to provide the food...Now, I see people who were just like I was when I was a kid. I see these kids that are hungry and I know that families are in need. So, if I have been given the task of organizing a project, and if God is going to provide the stuff, the food, then I may as well do it,” Jeni said.
And she has! For the past five years, Jeni and her numerous volunteers have made Thanksgiving possible for thousands of families. 500 Turkeys is on a mission.
“The mission is to raise enough food and funds to feed 500 or more families and to positively touch lives with Christ’s love,” Jeni said.
Thanks to local businesses, organizations, churches, and donors, Jeni’s 500 Turkeys is able to spread the love and the butter. With fundraisers such as Turkeypalooza and the annual Bunko game at her second home, Life Bridge Christian Church, Jeni raises enough money to purchase the turkeys every year.
“All we buy are the turkeys. Neither I nor the church have the funds to buy all the food needed for the meals, which is why we collect donations,” Jeni said.
On November 2nd, sixteen thousand food items were delivered to the church, all collected in the community. Since then, 500 Turkeys has received an additional two thousand pounds of food.
“We don’t just put one box of stuffing and one box of mashed potatoes and one can of carrots, we put two of everything in the box. We are not looking to feed them for just one night, we want to give them enough food so that they will have some left over,” Jeni said.
This year, Walmart is giving 500 Turkeys a good deal on turkeys and is generously allowing them to store the holiday birds in their freezers until they are needed. Along with a turkey, each Thanksgiving box will contain a full box of margarine and even toilet paper.
“Toilet paper is something everyone needs and it can’t be purchased with food stamps. We are just trying to find things that people need, that will help them, that will bless them,” Jeni said.
As all good things, Jeni just keeps getting better. Along with 500 Turkeys, which is run through her church, Jeni also finds the time to organize two additional ministries: Pamper Night and a Food Drive.
One night out of the year, Jeni, along with about seventy-five other volunteers, do something extra special for women who are really need it. For one night, women from the local battered women’s shelter are given an evening of beauty, rest, and relaxation. Professionals are brought in and the women are given a night of pampering. Their children are professionally cared for while the women get a full beauty transformation. The pampering includes getting their hair and makeup done, manicures and pedicures, and massages. After their beauty session, the women are given dinner and entertainment, and, of course, before and after pictures. If that isn’t enough, the women leave the Pamper Night with an arm full of gifts and an evening filled with happiness. Jeni’s concern and care for the community doesn’t stop here, though.
A day is organized where Jeni and about one hundred other volunteers go out to different grocery stores and ask shoppers to purchase as many items on the list as they wish. This year, five thousand pounds of food items were collected and donated to the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana.
Ms. Bolton does so much for the community that it’s a wonder there are enough hours in the day. Along with 500 Turkeys, Pamper Night, and the food drive, Jeni has been a full-time employee of McDonald’s, for the past twenty-one years, as their training manager and operations assistant. She is also an eleven year member of the Lions Club and is currently serving as their secretary.
”I am only able to do these things because God allows it. The only reason I have the time, strength, energy and talent to organize it is because I do what He asked me to do. And when anyone answers God’s call, He will provide you with what you need. You just have to do the basic organizing here on Earth. Everything that gets done is just showing how amazing God is and how much the people are loved and cared for,” Jeni said.
With so much to do, it is easy to give up and choose yourself over others. After all, there is only so much on person can do. When I asked Jeni how long she planned to keep organizing the 500 Turkeys I got a very emotional, heart-felt, and loving response:
“Every year I wonder, ‘ Am I going to do this again?’ and every year God tells me ‘You’re not the one who did it. I did it. You only did what I told you to do.’ And every year I hear stories from families on how this has blessed them. Some are blessed by knowing that someone cared enough to do this others are blessed because they simply couldn’t provide Thanksgiving for their family this year...After all of that, who would stop doing it? As long as I am physically able and as long as God tells me that this is what I am going to do, then this is what I am going to do,” Jeni said.
For Jeni, it has always been about giving back, reaching out, and spreading love. She has become a role model in the community by showing such generosity and compassion. What just might be the most amazing thing about this woman is that she remains so humble and God-oriented. Upon mentioning that she was such a great role model for others, she gave this very shy and humbled response: “I am glad I am setting a good example. I don’t profess to be perfect because I have my faults and my sins, but it is nice to know my hard work is recognized and that my mom raised me right.”
Jeni doesn’t have any big plans for the future of 500 Turkeys because she trustfully places its fate into God’s hands.
“I do exactly what God wants me to do. People tease me that I should go to a thousand turkeys and I tell them that I am only going to do what God lets me do. If he provides more food then I will do more, but if he doesn’t then I am happy doing exactly what he wants. The whole things is about God,“ Jeni said.
To say that the community is blessed by Jeni Bolton is an understatement. There are no words to describe such an amazing woman; someone who selflessly gives and never expects anything in return. She has touched the lives of thousands and spreads love everywhere she goes. To take on such a big request as feeding five hundred families for Thanksgiving takes a special woman. A wonder woman. But for Valparaiso, Indiana, it takes a humble woman.
For information on how to volunteer, fundraisers to support Jeni and her efforts, or to register either yourself or someone you know for a Thanksgiving meal, visit her website at www.500Turkeys.com.