Twenty Years of Turkey

The Annual Turkey Drive Continues Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic


Photo credit: Kevin Conlon

Parker families took part in the annual Thanksgiving food drive. Photo courtesy of Kevin Conlon.

Turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, and various forms of vegetables are the meal that many people sit down to every Thanksgiving. The delicious meal that takes place on Thanksgiving is a luxury, as not all families have that level of food security. For the past 20 years, Upper School history teacher Kevin Conlon has partnered with the Midwest Workers Association, the MWA, to help families have food for the holidays. Conlon organizes a turkey drive every year where members of the Parker community are encouraged to bring in frozen turkey or any non-perishable items. Although the turkey drive looked different this year due to COVID-19, it still occurred. 

The Midwest Workers Association is an organization that is based in the South Side of Chicago, and its goal is to help some of the lowest paying workers in Chicago. The donated items directly go to members of the MWA. In addition to the drive, they also have an emergency pantry. Conlon is a strong proponent of MWA’s work. “It creates a sense of neighborhood unity, and the people involved are the most selfless people I have ever met,” Conlon said. 

The work that the MWA does is important every year and improves many families’ Thanksgivings, but the drive is needed more than ever this year due to the coronavirus. “They have more people who have food emergencies because they have lost their jobs,” Conlon said. “They are not getting checks to keep them afloat.”

As the holiday season was approaching, Conlon was trying to figure out how the turkey drive would happen this year as the Upper School is remote. He did not want to burden his colleagues who were teaching in school because it is already a stressful environment. 

Conlon was planning on utilizing the 75-minute in-person advisory day that was supposed to occur for the Upper School on November 19, but that ended up being cancelled due to the rising coronavirus cases in Chicago. Despite this setback, the turkey drive was rescued when Parker Parent Association co-chairs Nichole Charfoos and Cat Adami volunteered to utilize the Parker Parent Association to collect donations. 

Charfoos was first introduced to the turkey drive when her daughter, senior Isabella Charfoos, mentioned it to her. Charfoos thought that it would be hard to get the necessary food this year with members of the community not being in school, and the demand for the food was even higher this year, so she wanted to get involved. Charfoos and Adami wanted to help, so they introduced the drive at a Parker Parent Association Meeting and through many emails. “We were honest that we needed people to step up, and we needed help and they answered that call,” Charfoos said. “They brought many of the items listed and then some.”

The socially-distanced food drive took place on Wednesday, November 18, the last day that junior kindergarten through seventh grade was at school. There were two different options of time slots where families had the chance to donate turkeys or non-perishable items on November 18. “At drop off, they had a box for donations across the street from Parker, on West Grant place. Then, at pick up, they had a second round of donations,” Conlon said. Conlon additionally was in the alcove on Thursday, November 19 to collect any items from members of the community who wanted to donate, but he could not come on November 18. 

The targeted audience for the turkey drive was all JK-12 students and their families, and participants range from JK students to eighth-grade students to just parents. “People got excited to do something that was tangible, and we saw all ages,” Charfoos said. “Kids were involved and they helped us to unload the cars.” 

Junior Emma Manley dropped off non-perishable items at Parker to help support the turkey drive. Manley initially was planning on doing it with her advisory, but when advisory day was cancelled she still decided to participate. “I always want to help and I felt like this year was a really good chance to do that,” Manley said. Manley donated cans of vegetables and stuffing, her Thanksgiving favorite, to the MWA. 

The excitement was not limited to the parents and the Upper School. Younger students at Parker were also excited to have the opportunity to be involved in the drive. “We had little kids who were so thrilled,” Charfoos said. “There were little kids carrying big turkeys and bags of stuffing.”

Volunteers collected 50 frozen turkeys and many non-perishable items. “On a good year, 50 turkeys is fantastic,” Conlon said. Conlon delivered the collected non-perishable items to the MWA and the turkeys in two separate trips as it was too much for one trip. 

Charfoos was thrilled that she was able to help the cause and would love to be involved in years to come. She saw the community rally together in a time of tremendous need. “The sense of being able to finally do something in this challenging time to help someone else and to help a bigger community, it felt really good,” Charfoos said. “I think that is why it was so successful.” Charfoos believes that the Parker community took advantage of this opportunity to do something that will impact the larger Chicago community, and they showed much generosity doing so. 

Manley’s experiences this year participating in the Turkey Drive makes her want to be a part next year. She believes that the turkey drive is easy to do. “It is three steps: get the stuff or tell your parents to, put it in a bag, and go to school,” Manley said. “It’s really simple and I encourage others to do it.”

Conlon also believes the drive was successful due to the community’s wish to do good deeds after the events of this summer. “We are a city that has a large history of segregation and racial problems, and since the murder of George Floyd and the mainstream of the Black Lives Matter Movement, more well-off Americans and white Americans, in our city that has so much tension, wanted to help out,” Conlon said. “They felt like this was a way they could help out, and connect to the city more.”

Like many other things in 2020, the turkey drive adapted this year, but that did not change the dramatic positive effects that it will have on many families in the Chicagoland area. “Given the conditions, it worked out so much better than I would have imagined,” Conlon said. “I am so grateful to the Parker community for stepping up. It was really cool to see that.”