By Amy White
Special to The Texas Catholic
For the past 20 Thanksgivings, families have offered thanks while gathered around delectable Thanksgiving spreads from St. Gabriel’s Turkey Basket Program.
The program, which offers full Thanksgiving meals to low-income families in Collin County, is headed by the Men’s Club at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Community in McKinney. As one of the original ministries at the parish, the Men’s Club — originally dubbed the “Wrecking Crew” — has blessed the parish for 25 years through a wide variety of volunteer work.
“We always do whatever the church needs,” said Kent Montgomery, the club’s president for the past three years, “When Father Don Zeiler needs a project done—building, painting, or parking lot duties—he calls us. When parishioners need help, they call us.”
Local families looking to celebrate God’s generosity over a mouthwatering feast have certainly found their need met by the Men’s Club. Turkey, potatoes, desserts, and the rest of the traditional fixings are included in the club’s turkey baskets, along with letters, invitations to Christmas Mass, and the accompanying prayers of club members.
Mike Simon, the Turkey Basket Program leader since 2005, reflected on the significance of these Thanksgiving goods, saying, “We understand for some families that this could be their first complete meal in months, and for some, it can be a blessing for the family to come together and be thankful.”
Like many other charitable efforts this year, the Turkey Basket Program faced several new and unexpected challenges. In light of the pandemic, the Men’s Club’s preparations for Thanksgiving had to include many accommodations.
“This year, we had to change our whole dynamics of the Thanksgiving Basket Project,” Simon said.
Rather than the traditional front-door delivery of baskets the Sunday before Thanksgiving, for example, the club adopted a drive-thru delivery method. Recipient families collected their goods at St. Gabriel Community Center on Nov. 21 aided by distribution teams headed by Phil Fung, Bill Mertz and Ken Hodes.
Donation collections had to be adapted as well.
“In the past,” Montgomery said, “the men handed out envelopes after Mass and parishioners would include a donation the next week in the offering basket. This year, with the pandemic reducing the Mass attendance, we had to go to online donations.”
Thankfully, he said, St. Gabriel’s parish responded generously despite the change.
An increase in need due to the pandemic also necessitated a change in the number of turkey baskets prepared and distributed. Though an already hefty average of 300 to 325 families a year have needed turkey baskets in Thanksgivings past, the club had to double the quantity of baskets this year to adequately meet need.
Luckily for the Men’s Club—and for low-income families in Collin County—local volunteers were ready to do their part in continuing the project despite the unusual year. From Boy Scouts assembling boxes to local truck owners transporting hundreds of frozen turkeys, St. Gabriel’s volunteer efforts did not run dry.
“The program is truly a St. Gabriel effort,” Montgomery said. “Everyone from Father Don, the St. Gabriel staff, ministries, and parishioners, played a part in helping put this program together. The end result was that the needy of North Texas had a Thanksgiving meal.”
And a reason to give thanks.