August has only just begun, but Thanksgiving turkeys were the center of attention at Turkeypalooza in Central Park Plaza on Sunday. In 2009, Jennifer Bolton founded 500 Turkeys, a missionary group that has provided Thanksgiving meals to an estimated 48,000 people since its launch.
When she attended a Christian youth conference as a youth leader in 2009, she received a sealed envelope with a card inside that would challenge her to do something for someone else. When Bolton opened her envelope, her card said “500 Turkeys: Raise enough food and funds to feed 500 families for Thanksgiving.”
Bolton said yes to the challenge, and the mission has grown with each passing year. Each box contains 25-30 items, including main Thanksgiving dinner staples and, more recently, bibles and hygiene supplies. Families can register for the Thanksgiving dinners on the 500 Turkeys website beginning in mid-October.
“Within 48 hours, all the meals are spoken for,” she said. “It goes very fast, which is concerning because that’s the need in the Northwest Indiana area.”
Last year, 500 Turkeys fed 1500 families, and it hopes to do the same this coming Thanksgiving with the help of its ninth annual Turkeypalooza, the group’s largest fundraising event of the year.
“We started out very, very small in a restaurant with a few friends, and then it’s just grown through the years,” Bolton said.
Live music from various local bands surged throughout the park all day, and for $5, children were able to play in the Kid Zone with different crafts, games, face painting, and bounce houses. In addition, seven local participating volunteers climbed into the dunk tank over the course of the event to raise money for the organization.
“If those people can encourage their friends to come out, they’re going to not only dunk them but then visit the vendors which is helping our community in the business way,” Bolton said.
Dozens of local business vendors and sponsors were present at Turkeypalooza to sell and talk about their crafts and services. Attendees who visited each booth were able to enter into a drawing for a $100 Visa gift card. Several local food vendors were also present to sell their goods.
All vendors offered at least 10 percent of their profits to 500 Turkeys, while Nazarene Church of Valparaiso donated 100 percent of their food booth profits to the organization.
“Everybody has different gifts and talents, and everybody puts something into it,” Bolton said.
Kayde Martin of Providence Life Services has helped with 500 Turkeys for several years, but she hosted her own vendor booth at the event for the first time this year.
“Vendor to vendor, the best part is getting to meet each other,” she said. “I do a lot of these shows, and it’s always fun just to meet new people and see what their services are.”
Kelly Asbell, a 500 Turkeys committee member, recently endured a double lung transplant surgery and was not expected to attend the event. But she showed up anyway.
“This is my heart,” she said. “This is my big ministry outreach. God gave me another breath, another day, and I’m here as long as I can be.”
Asbell took the stage to make an announcement about Turkey Hands. This initiative gives community members the opportunity to be a part of a family’s Thanksgiving box by purchasing and writing a letter to the family.
“When the recipient family opens up their box, they look down and the first thing they see is an encouraging letter,” she said. “And when they receive that, it’s almost like a hug.”
Through food, fellowship, and faith, 500 Turkeys uses Turkeypalooza as a way to help the community just as the community helps 500 Turkeys each year.
“500 Turkeys’s mission is to feed families, food, and faith, and today helps feed faith,” Bolton said. “We just want people to know who God is by our actions, by our love, and how we give back to the community.”
For more information about 500 Turkeys, visit their website at https://www.500turkeys.com/.