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Alvernia’s Turkey Drive Feeds Area Families

by Leah Kemper , Alvernia University, citizen contributor

Nov 20, 2018
Last year’s Turkey Drive helpers assembled 200 food boxes.

It’s time to talk turkey.

As the holiday season approaches, Polly Mathys once more leads the annual Turkey Drive, which feeds thousands of local Reading-area families. 2018 marks the 31st year of the effort, but it began by chance.

“The first year was almost an accident,” Polly Mathys, Alvernia assistant professor of computer information systems, says.

“I was in school very early in November [1987] doing backup on computers and reading the newspaper. There was a full-page ad for a grocery store chain that stated: ‘free turkey with $25 order. I turned the page, and there was an ad for another grocery store that stated: ‘free turkey with $25 order. I literally felt I was being shouted at, ‘how many of these [ads] do I have to see before I get it!’”

Professor Mathys put hand written flyers into Alvernia faculty mailboxes that said, ‘if you can get a turkey and don’t need it, let me know, someone should have those turkeys.’ That first year, she got 25 turkeys and took them to a soup kitchen in Reading called Kennedy House.

At first, Mathys only collected turkeys. In 1997, Mathys branched out into building food boxes.

“Every year, we were connected by somebody who needed our help. Not just individual families, but by organizations that wanted turkeys,” Mathys said.

Last year, the turkey drive reached out to more than 1,000 local families through the Kennedy House, Christ Church’s SPARKS program, Bethel AME Church, the Red Cross, the Olivet Boys and Girls Club, and more.

“We ended up giving 1166 turkeys and hams, 250 food boxes, and a few other little things along the way. The turkey and hams may have fed 7,000 people,” Mathys says. “That’s a drop in the bucket for Reading poverty. Keeps you humble to say, it will never be enough.”

The Berks County community can help with this event by giving cash, checks, and Venmo donations to Mathys. She also accepts canned goods, hams, and turkeys.

Alivia Lopez, a sophomore sports management major at Alvernia, donated last year.“I donated canned goods and nonperishable goods to Polly Mathys for the turkey drive,” she said. “It made me feel great to know that I could help people enjoy their holiday.”

People can help the turkey drive by making hand-made Christmas cards for the veterans for the Red Cross. They can also help fill candy bags and food boxes, or help with loading or unloading the trucks at area charities.

Susanna Pirollo, an Alvernia sophomore athletic training major, helped deliver the turkeys to different places around Reading last year. One of the places they went to was a church in the city of Reading.

“All the people we delivered the turkeys to were very grateful. It was very humbling to see how much joy the turkey drive brought to people in our community” Pirollo said.

“Seeing as my family has always had plenty of food on Thanksgiving, it was easy to take the blessing of a warm meal for granted. By helping with the turkey drive, I was reminded of all of the blessings I have in my life. It was a great feeling to be able to help other people in the community enjoy a warm meal on Thanksgiving.”

To donate to the turkey drive, connect Polly Mathys at 484-366-3246 or [email protected].

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