Denver Rescue Mission’s annual turkey drive is serious business

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Jeremy Stubbs, food distribution coordinator for the Denver Rescue Mission, holds up the first donation of their holiday turkey drive outside of Republic Plaza, Nov. 2, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jeremy Stubbs, food distribution coordinator for the Denver Rescue Mission, holds up the first donation of their holiday turkey drive outside of Republic Plaza, Nov. 2, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Here’s what I learned Friday morning from a turkey on the 16th Street Mall:

The Denver Rescue Mission served more than 900,000 meals to the needy last fiscal year, most at its Lawrence Street Shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

“That number has been growing if you compare it to the previous year and even in the last several years,” said Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for the faith-based non-profit.

The city estimates that nearly one in six households here experience hunger or faced financial or other barriers that kept them from getting enough food at times.

Gagner was dressed as a turkey to draw attention to the kick-off of the Denver Rescue Mission’s annual Thanksgiving food drive. The mood was light-hearted — people stopped to take selfies with Gagner. But the need is serious. So is the response. The mission expects to collect 15,000 turkeys over the next few weeks.

Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for Denver Rescue Mission, celebrates the first donation of their holiday turkey drive outside of Republic Plaza, Nov. 2, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for Denver Rescue Mission, celebrates the first donation of their holiday turkey drive. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The mission uses some of the turkeys for the 3,000 Thanksgiving food boxes handed out every year at Broncos stadium and to provide holiday meals to men, women and children at its facilities in Denver and Fort Collins. Other birds will be passed on to churches, schools and other nonprofits who give them to the needy or make them the centerpiece of donated holiday dinners.

“I always call us the turkey hub,” Gagner said. “That’s what I really love about it is it’s a community effort.”

For three and a half hours Friday, Gagner and her colleagues collected turkeys, canned goods and other food as well as funds in cash or via a credit card reader. From now until Nov. 21 donations also will be taken at the mission’s Ministry Outreach Center, which is equipped with a 40-foot freezer, at 5725 East 39th Avenue; the shelter on Park Avenue West at Lawrence; and The Crossing, a transitional housing facility  at 6090 Smith Road.

The Denver Broncos, who partner with the mission, will be collecting food the afternoon of Nov. 16 at the UCHealth Training Center, 13655 East Broncos Parkway in Englewood.

Denver Rescue Mission collects turkeys at Republic Plaza for their holiday food drive, Nov. 2, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Rescue Mission collects turkeys at Republic Plaza. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

This is the first year the drive was launched with what the mission called  “Bring Your Turkey To Work Day.” It was also bring your daughter to work day for Matt Lazzeri, a tax partner at Ernst & Young.

Eight-year-old Paige “didn’t have school today, so I thought she could help bring the turkeys,” Lazzeri said.

He and a colleague, Brittany Droogsma, arrived just before 9 a.m. with two turkeys each  for the gray bin the size of a Smart car that Denver Rescue Mission had parked outside the white tower along Tremont between 16th and 17th where E&Y has its offices.

Lazzeri helped organize the launch, getting out the word to employees of E&Y and nearby businesses. E&Y supports the Denver Rescue Mission, and Lazzeri has as well in his personal capacity. He used to drive by the Lawrence Street Shelter on the way home from work.

“Seeing the people there in need just kind of touched me,” he said.