The Sunday before Thanksgiving, the Rotary Club of Great Neck and other local organizations will gather at the Merchant Marine Academy to orchestrate their Turkey Drive, providing Thanksgiving meals to those less fortunate.
“We all share the same goal of giving back to the community,” Roger Chizever, executive secretary of the Rotary Club, said. “We like to think about this event as providing people with an actual, sitdown family dinner they can enjoy.”
Started 30 years ago, the Rotary Club began by providing several families with turkeys to enjoy on the holiday. Over the years, the organization provided more complete meals and extended its reach to hundreds of families.
This year, the club will ship out meals consisting of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, other side dishes, and a dessert to 1,500 families in roughly a 20-mile radius.
“Over time the group collectively found more streamlined ways to deliver full-meals to more families,” Chizever explained. “The event has come a long way from going into grocery stores and hand-picking all of the necessary supplies.”
Chizever said that many different means of food delivery systems have been explored in the past.
“It’s really a perfected science that has been carefully analyzed throughout the event’s history,” he said. “With the huge help of the Merchant Marine facilities that are provided for us, it’s all able to be a smooth flow of bagging, packaging, loading, and shipping.”
The process begins with Rotary Club members gathering outside the Academy Saturday night, taking care of any housekeeping, such as miscellaneous items that may not have been included, and picking up the shipment of frozen turkeys, canned goods, and of course, the desserts.
On Sunday, the group gathers back at the facility promptly at 8 a.m., ensuring any and all last-minute loose ends have been tied. Each piece of the meal has its own designated spot within the bagging room, with people at each station.
At 9, members begin bagging potatoes, followed by the canned goods, then dessert. Once all of the sides are properly bagged, they, along with the turkeys, are put into larger, reusable bags and loaded up into a donated truck, ready to be shipped out by 12 p.m.
“It may seem like a lot of work that would take more than three hours,” Chizever said. “But having everyone know what assignment they need to do and the proper order makes it so easy for us now.”
The food is shipped out local churches, temples, mental health associations, and veteran groups around the area, and from there, each organization delivers them to specific families in time for the holidays.
The Rotary Club has also received support from organizations such as the Lakeville Civic Association, Great Neck Chinese Association, Temple Beth-El, and Temple Emanuel, and local high school clubs.
“It’s great having everyone come together to make this event possible each year,” Chizever said. “It’s certainly a group effort. Without others helping out financially, providing food, or physically bagging, we would not reach nearly the amount of families we do now.”
To donate or to learn more about this event, and others that the Rotary Club of Great Neck has throughout the year, visit https://www.rotaryclubgreatneck.org/.