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VT touchdowns feed NRV’s hungry

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Today is Pulaski Daily Bread’s official Christmas party, but the excitement started a day early for those the soup kitchen and food pantry serve.

Director Debbi Harrell found out about a week ago a special group of young men would be making a surprise delivery to Daily Bread Thursday morning. She told “clients” there would be a surprise during lunch service, but didn’t elaborate.

When the doors to the Fourth Street facility opened Thursday, diners filed in to find members of Virginia Tech’s Military Bowl-bound football team inside.

The team was there to serve lunch and hand out holiday turkeys to area families who otherwise might not have a Christmas meal. The 146 turkeys were donated by Kroger as part of a “Touchdowns 4 Turkeys” partnership between VT Football, Kroger and Feeding America Southwest Virginia.

“Touchdowns 4 Turkeys” began with the football team’s first game and ends with the Dec. 31 Military Bowl against Cincinnati. Under the partnership, Kroger agreed to donate 10 turkeys for each touchdown VT scored throughout the season. That has resulted in 460 donated birds to date, but the team still has a chance to contribute more by making additional touchdowns.

Feeding America arranged for the turkeys to be distributed to Daily Bread and Shawsville Lay Ministerial food pantry in Montgomery County.

For many of those having lunch at Daily Bread Thursday, meeting members of Tech’s football team was as exciting as receiving a free holiday turkey.

For Bessie Pence and her fiancé Norman James, having the team as special guests was an extra special surprise. They never dreamed they would be getting a free turkey and certainly didn’t expect to meet Tech players.

Pence said James is a big football fan and they watch Tech games regularly. They took the opportunity to have their picture made with team members and Pence had some autograph her shirt.

Team members also autographed posters and gave them to anyone requesting one. Several families and individuals posed for pictures with team members.

As diners filed out of the facility, on the lower level of First Presbyterian Church in Pulaski, they thanked Harrell, told her she is “awesome” and expressed gratitude for all who made the event possible.

She reminded each to return Friday for the soup kitchen’s official Christmas party (see related story).

Harrell said the turkey donations were a blessing for Daily Bread, which used to distribute turkeys at Christmas.

“That’s what I want to stress, that this was a blessing because everybody had been asking me if we would be giving turkeys because we used to and I haven’t been able to for several years. I told them ‘no,’ but when I heard about this, it was such a blessing,” she said.

Like many nonprofits, Harrell said donations to Daily Bread are down due to people giving to the many natural disasters occurring nationwide. She said she understands the need to help those impacted by natural disasters, but asked that we not forget those in need locally.

Asked how an opportunity like Thursday’s makes him feel, VT safety Divine Deablo of Winston-Salem, N.C., said, “It makes me smile to see all of these other people out here smiling as we give them turkeys. It’s great to come out here and get to know and meet other people.”

Fellow safety Tyree Rodgers of Camden, N.J., said it was a great opportunity. “You know, we see a lot of people smiling out here and I see our team smiling. We’re having fun giving back. It’s great,” he said.

Several people commented to players about their upcoming bowl game, encouraging them and wishing them good luck.

Deablo and Rodgers said they’ve been working “extra hard” to prepare for the game. Several people joked Thursday that the team was getting an extra workout carrying all of those turkeys and boxes of turkeys.

During a lull in distribution Pamela Irvine, president and CEO of Feeding America Southwest Virginia, joked that she would ask to see a pass, but that might not be a good idea.

Irvine said Feeding America was happy to partner with VT and Kroger on the initiative. “We know these turkeys will help make a brighter holiday for thousands of hungry people in the New River Valley and Southwest Virginia.”

Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger’s Mid-Atlantic Division, said Kroger is committed to feeding the hungry year-round. “We have a goal of ending hunger in our communities by 2025 in an initiative called Zero Hunger/Zero Waste. No family in a community we serve should ever go hungry.”

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