Utica, N.Y. - Former Utica Fire Chief Russ Brooks is still serving his community even after his retirement, and this year, thanks to COVID, he is finding it a little more difficult to do.
Brooks has been the President of the Utica Food Bank for the past 10 years.
Each year he has organized The Utica Food Pantry's Annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway to help families in need in the Utica community have their own Thanksgiving meal at home.
The giveaway is made up of turkeys and trimmings donated by members of the community and area businesses.
Brooks says this year all of the trimmings are once again being donated by Hannaford Supermarkets, but he says possibly due to COVID, the number of turkeys that have been donated from the community is way down for this point in the process.
Brooks says the pantry only has about 100 turkeys so far, "We don’t have as many turkeys this year as we did last year to giveaway. Last year we gave away 660 turkeys. So this year we kind of really focused in on the neediest of the community and we gave our coupons to those that are truly in need."
Brooks says his hope is with this last week push to get turkeys, the pantry will receive a total of 500 turkeys, and that is why he has given out 500 coupons to the most needy families, 400 of which are families who have come to the Utica Food Pantry for help in the past few months, "These are people that've been asking about getting this turkey since July. It really means a lot to them."
Brooks says the other 100 coupons were given to families who are tenants of the Utica Municipal Housing Authority, "We partner with the Municipal Housing. Through all of their tenants, they’ve identified those most in need and we’ve given out tickets to them also."
In past years, people would just line up outside Utica's main fire station, Station 2 on Bleecker Street, and eventually make their way inside the fire station to receive a free turkey and trimmings.
This year, it will be a drive-thru event, and as already mentioned, only people with coupons will be able to get the turkey and trimmings.
Brooks hope is that if the community really comes forward and donates a lot more than 500 turkeys, he will be able to get the extra turkeys to other families in need, but that giveaway wouldn't happen until possibly Thanksgiving week. He does not want anyone who doesn't have a coupon to get in the drive-thru line.
Brooks says this year more people than ever have come to the food pantry for help, and he says those families are the ones that need the help the most.
Brooks says donations to the food pantry have been down this year for many reasons, maybe because so many of the people that have given in the past are now out of a job because of COVID.
He is hoping that the other folks in the community who are more fortunate will think of the less fortunate this year and donate a turkey or even a monetary donation to the food pantry to provide food all year long, "There’s always the option of making monetary donations or donations online. And we really need help if we’re going to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
To make a monetary donation, you can make a check payable to Utica Food Pantry and drop it in the mail to :
Utica Food Pantry
PO Box 306
Utica, NY 13503
You can also donate online at www.uticanyfoodpantry.org/donate
Or you can text 'GIVE' to 1-833-343-0567.
You can drop off a turkey off anytime at Utica Fire Station 2 at 552 Bleecker Street.