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Despite supply concerns, Butterfly Effect Project distributes turkey for Thanksgiving

Preparations are underway for Thanksgiving and you may have noticed that it’s become a bit more stressful — and certainly more expensive — to source ingredients for the holiday.

National news reports have warned of turkey shortages and the national Farm Bureau has reported that the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 people is up 14% over last year.

While families all over are feeling the squeeze of having to fork over more money for the fall holiday, those who work to address food insecurity locally say they’re struggling to meet demand and that recent economic issues are hurting their efforts.

At the Butterfly Effect Project in Riverhead, executive director Tijuana Fulford has partnered with other community organizations like First Baptist Church and Galilee Church in Riverhead to help families in need at Thanksgiving.

When she began offering Thanksgiving outreach in 2014, just 28 families asked for assistance. This year, that number has grown to more than 180.

“The last two years have been really hard,” Ms. Fulford said. “The price of everything is going up and more people are facing food insecurity.”

In the weeks leading up to turkey day, Ms. Fulford and her volunteers spend all of their free time in local grocery stores, marathon-shopping to purchase and quickly distribute food for the holiday. “We don’t purchase a turkey unless we know that turkey has a family,” she said.

Working on a slim, nonprofit budget, Ms. Fulford and volunteer Vivian Hobson decided to purchase around 100 turkeys from the Stop & Shop store in Riverhead last Tuesday night. “They had the best priced turkeys,” Ms. Fulford explained, at about 49 cents a pound.

They filled carts to the brim with turkeys and were disheartened when they were told at the checkout line that they could only purchase one turkey at the sale price. The rest would have to be full price, at costs ranging from $1.49 to $2.49 to as much as $3.99 per pound.

“I was stressing mentally because now we’re way over budget,” Ms. Fulford said. “People were able to pay off a light bill or put gas in their car because they knew they were going to get a turkey.”

Store employees said the policy was in place because of a turkey shortage, which Ms. Fulford said she understands. “But for many of my families, there is a turkey shortage every year,” she said.

From there, store employees and managers quickly stepped up, offering to buy turkeys themselves and donating a $100 gift card to help chip away at the costs. Other employees helped carry the turkeys outside and load them into Ms. Fulford’s car.

Community members locally also stepped up quickly to donate what they could in an emergency fundraiser, Ms. Fulford said. 

In an interview Friday afternoon, Jennifer Brogan, director of community relations at Stop & Shop’s corporate headquarters in Quincy, Mass., explained that the company traditionally places a limit of two turkeys that can be purchased at the sale price, but changed that limit to one this year because of supply concerns. 

“We want to make sure there’s enough to go around for everybody,” Ms. Brogan said, noting that other local retailers have similar limits in place.

When the incident was brought to Ms. Brogan’s attention earlier this week, she helped secure an additional donation of $2,000 in gift cards to help offset the cost of the Thanksgiving meals. “[Ms. Fulford] is doing amazing work in the community,” Ms. Brogan said. “We commend what she’s doing and we were more than happy to step in and help.”

The grocery chain has donated 21,500 turkeys this year to those in need through community partners like food banks, YMCAs and other organizations. On Long Island, Ms. Brogan said, 2,000 turkeys were also donated to Long Island Cares and Island Harvest in a partnership with the New York Islanders. 

“Nothing is more important to us in the month of November than making sure folks in need have turkeys for the holidays — and this year in particular, between the impacts of the pandemic and inflation, we know it’s more important than ever,” Ms. Brogan said.

Ms. Fulford said she’s been overwhelmed at the support, both from large companies like Stop & Shop and from local donors that make continuing her work possible. 

“It’s such a blessing knowing the community is there and they understand It’s more than just a turkey. You’re giving them togetherness, tradition, laughter and family time,” she said. “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday: cooking, sharing my heritage with my children and traditions they’ll hopefully pass on to their kids. I want everyone to have that.”