by Michelle DeRusha
Volunteer Deb Grady will arrive at the Omaha, Neb., Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center by 5:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning—something she’s been doing every Thanksgiving for more than two decades.
Deb coordinates 20 or so volunteers from Heartland Pioneers, many of whom worked for Western Electric, AT&T and CommScope and have been helping to prepare meals for TurkeyFest since its inception in 1991.
Originally called the Telephone Pioneers of America, the group focused on a variety of community service projects. In the early days of their partnership with The Salvation Army, these volunteers cooked the turkeys in their own home kitchens and then brought them to The Salvation Army on Thanksgiving morning to be delivered to older adults later that day.
In 1991, TurkeyFest volunteers delivered 40 meals. Last year the number of Thanksgiving dinners distributed to older adults in Omaha had skyrocketed to nearly 1,200! This year it’s anticipated just as many meals, or even more, will be gobbled up.
“I love the camaraderie, everyone doing their part and in tune with one another,” said Deb, who prepares Thanksgiving dinner for her own family on Wednesday so she is free to help out at TurkeyFest on Thanksgiving morning. “And we have fun! We enjoy ourselves back there in the kitchen.”
Deb retired in 2011 from Connectivity Solutions Manufacturing, a former division of CommScope, where she worked in the print shop. TurkeyFest has helped her stay in touch with many of her colleagues.
“It’s a nice opportunity to see people that we don’t ordinarily connect with except at this time of the year,” she said.
Deb doesn’t have plans to step down anytime soon. “I’ve made mashed potatoes for TurkeyFest for more years than I can count,” she said. “It’s just part of my Thanksgiving tradition.”