BANGOR, Maine — With bright sunshine and temperatures hitting 62 degrees, Thanksgiving wasn’t foremost on too many minds Saturday, but it was for about 30 volunteers assembled at Lamb’s Book and Bible Store.
“This is the sixth year we’ve done this, and it’s a fun way for us to be able to kick off their annual turkey drive and get people thinking about Thanksgiving,” said Pencil Boone, midday host for Christian radio station WHCF, 105.7 FM.
The sixth annual WHCF and Solution FM Turkey Toss gives anyone donating a turkey a chance to toss two rubber chickens onto a large mat with targets. If a turkey lands on a target, the tosser gets a free CD or DVD.
For the second straight year, the toss collected a record number of turkeys. Saturday’s total of 279 easily topped last year’s 252.
That made Bill Rae, executive director of Manna Ministries of Bangor, very happy as this is the first of four “headliner” events aimed at collecting a total of 6,800 turkeys to give to underprivileged individuals and families for Thanksgiving dinners.
“We had 6,500 last year. We started out in 1995 with 100, and it’s gone up every year since,” said Rae.
Including Saturday’s total take, Manna already has collected 1,200 turkeys, but Rae is still worried about meeting this year’s goal in light of the rough economy.
“I’m concerned that we may not meet our goal. If that happens, how do I tell someone I can’t give them a turkey?” Rae said. “I’m not going to do that. Ten bucks will buy a family a turkey dinner. That’s not much.”
Rae said Manna began collecting turkeys for Thanksgiving when a woman came to him with her two children and told him she didn’t know what she was going to do for Thanksgiving because she couldn’t afford a turkey.
“I told her I’d find her a turkey; we did, and then someone else came in saying the same thing, and there it went,” he said.
Manna, which has become the central distribution center for turkeys for many of the state’s food pantries and soup kitchens, distributes turkeys from northern Aroostook County all the way down to Portland and in between.
“Penobscot Christian School students came over. They’re a small school, K through eighth grade, but they brought 50 turkeys,” Boone said.
That made them easy winners of the free Papa John’s pizza party. The next-highest single-party donation was 16.
Volunteers weren’t just enjoying the unusually warm weather and sunshine. While tossing chickens they shared jokes and stories, one of which illustrated the meaning of events like the Turkey Toss.
“Last year, a woman came up with a turkey and then she started crying,” Boone recalled. “I asked her why and she said, ‘Last year, I got a turkey. This year I have a job, and I wanted to make sure that a family had the same experience I did.’ That was really, really cool.”