Nearly 40 tons of food and hundreds of volunteers took over the Ed Smith Stadium parking lot for Mayors' Feed The Hungry on Friday but the drive found itself short more than 1,700 turkeys for Thanksgiving.
So, what happened and how can you help?
Traditionally, Joy FM Christian radio ran the popular Turkeys For T-Shirts promotion for the last five years, but this year the radio station decided not to do the donation drive where folks would donate a frozen bird at Publix in exchange for a free T-shirt, said Scott Biehler, volunteer food drive coordinator for Mayors Feed The Hungry and vice president of the charity.
That would normally bring in about 2,000 turkeys, he said.
"We didn't have any turkeys," Biehler said.
A last-ditch effort by residents in the University Park development was able to raise $3,600 along with developer Neal Communities on Wednesday to pay for turkeys, Biehler said.
"We called Publix in Lakeland, put a rush order on them and they just delivered the turkeys this morning, and we picked them up at Publix and brought them over here," Biehler said. "We got 260 turkeys. Not quite 2,000, but it's been a blessing because we didn't have any."
The Mayors' Feed The Hungry drive is an effort founded by former mayor Fredd "Glossie" Atkins that begins in July that connects schools and other locations to serve as drop-off points for the drive. Since 1987, mayors from Sarasota and Manatee counties join the effort each year, and the food is distributed to food pantries all over Sarasota and Manatee counties.
The bad news is that the food drive is over meaning that there's no where to store turkeys by the Mayors' program, but the good news is that there's still a way to help.
One way is to make a cash donation to Mayors' Feed The Hungry either online at the Mayors' Feed The Hungry website or send a check to Mayors' Feed The Hungry Program, PO Box 1992, Sarasota, FL 34230-1992. That way, Mayors' could give families $10 Publix gift cards.
Another way is to contact one of the 25 individual partner organizations directly to ask if they are in need of turkey donations. To obtain a list of those organizations, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 941-350-6075.
Despite the turkey shortage, the event was a success on Friday.
"We have more volunteers than we ever had before," Biehler said, estimating about 350 volunteers.
Folks from all different backgrounds were standing side by side pitching in a hand.
County Commissioner Carolyn Mason was warmed by the spirit at Ed Smith.
"It's people helping people because people sorting the food for people who need the food," Mason said. "And some of these people need the food. I think it speaks a lot about Sarasota, and I think it speaks a lot about the people that make up this place we call Sarasota. A lot of people are telling me they're having fun doing this, Charles, and I think that's outstanding."
Laura Williams, Orioles director of Florida Operations, said the Orioles organization was excited to lend a hand through its OriolesREACH charity to help the community.
"This is one of several community initiatives that the Orioles are embarking on that we feel is incredibly important and that being meeting the food supply for Sarasota County—the deplete food supply—and being able to offer up the facility to make sure we can do all that we can during the holiday season," Williams said.
During Spring Training 2013, an expanded food drive is being planned for both Mayors' Feed The Hungry and All Faiths Food Bank, Williams added.
"We want to help in the fight against hunger," Williams said, adding that the need for the local food banks doesn't stop at the holidays and during the spring months the food banks shelves are often bare.
It's also a way to show that Ed Smith isn't just for baseball, and it's not just the field that can be used. Volunteers used the parking lot for an assembly line of sorting and packing, the concession stands' freezer space was used to store the frozen turkeys for delivery, the box office was used for a secure area to count money and the picnic grounds served lunch for the hungry volunteers, Williams said.
"I love the fact that the stadium is this versatile," she said. "I don't think when the renovation was done the community realized the many uses that the new facility could have. Today is like a case in point. There's no baseball going on, but we're making a major impact."