Let’s Talk Turkey

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VINELAND, N.J. -

The annual Turkey Drive for the Salvation Army in Vineland returns this Thanksgiving. A year after a record 1,200 turkey dinners were purchased and distributed, the drive’s organizers are looking to top that record number this year. The cost of sponsoring a turkey dinner is $20.

With Vineland’s high poverty and unemployment rates, some of its residents look to the Salvation Army for a helping hand, says Steve Plevins, the organizer of the Turkey Drive each year. Plevins started the modern-day annual Turkey Drive eight years ago and expects to be able to feed a good amount of people this year.

“This year we are going to have a huge amount of people or families we have to reach through the Turkey Drive, and we’re thinking we’re going to have at least 800 families we’re going to reach,” says Plevins.

Last year was the biggest success for the Turkey Drive with 1,200 turkeys distributed to the people in the community. Plevins says it was such a sight to see the Salvation Army fill up with donations like it did.

“Last year what happened was we had this whole room filled up, like we had cars all the way to the railroad tracks and it was packed,” says Plevins. “The director said, ‘I want to let you know that Steve raised all the money,’ and they all like ran over to me and said, ‘thank you’ and I had to step outside; I almost cried because it was a very moving thing.”

Plevins, a Vineland resident, says that he loves how the community comes together for this program each year. He says the Salvation Army has the entire Vineland community behind them and has organizations such as the Vineland Chamber of Commerce, the Vineland Rotary Club and other businesses in Vineland helping them out.

The annual Turkey Drive takes up most of his Plevins’ time and requires a lot of effort from him as well as from the Vineland Salvation Army and the volunteers.

“I started it in July and have worked at least 20to 30 hours a week since July, so quite a bit of work goes into this,” says Plevins. “It takes a lot of time because you have to meet with the donors. It’s just not everything through the mail. Our Thanksgiving drive is just a tremendous program. It’s just a lot of hard work going to the businesses, collecting the turkeys—but it’s worth it in the long run because people get a great Thanksgiving.”

Pictured: Pastor Miguel Barriera with Steve Plevins

Plevins retired from his longtime job working with the government to help troubled youth and gang members. He is now the marketing director at the Vineland Salvation Army, a position he says he loves.

“I had 38 years working with the government and I retired,” says Plevins. “I worked with troubled youth, gangs, etc. and I retired, and I have been with the Salvation Army for eight years. It’s a volunteer position, [but] this is a great place right here, this Salvation Army.”

Plevins says he is amazed at how far the Turkey Drive program has come since he started it eight years ago. Thanks to more generous donors helping each year, the Vineland Salvation Army is home to one of the largest turkey drives in the state of New Jersey, according to Plevins.

“We started with 300 turkeys at the beginning and now we’re up to between 800 and 1,000,” says Plevins. It’s just an amazing program; it might be 800 families, it might be 1,000, but I think we checked with other areas and I think we have the largest turkey drive in the state.

The Turkey Drive doesn’t only entail collecting turkeys and giving turkey dinners out to the people who need them, it’s a much longer process, according to Plevins. It requires a team effort from everyone at the Vineland Salvation Army and the big thing is getting the right people signed up.

“The Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Thanksgiving, that’s when we give out the food,” says Plevins. “What we do before that is we have a social worker and an assistant signing people up because you have to have a low income to get it. So, we have people signing the families up and they get a number and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving then they come here right in this room and they pick up their turkey and everything.”

Plevins credits the Salvation Army’s daily food pantry for much of the Turkey Drive’s success. The Vineland Salvation Army receives truckloads from produce auctions, Acme, ShopRite and Pepsi, according to Plevins.

“We’re on our way right now to sign people up and try to get donations, but also train staff because the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday [before Thanksgiving] we have volunteers that have to be trained,” says Plevins. “We have about 10 volunteers work those days, to pack the boxes.”

The Vineland Salvation Army’s Turkey Drive wouldn’t be able to do what it does without the help of some large donors. Businesses like Century Bank and B&B Poultry back the Salvation Army up “100 percent,” according to Plevins.

Collections will be held at the Shop Rite in Vineland (Lincoln Ave.) on Sunday, Nov. 11, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. On Saturday, November 17, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., collections will take place at the Bottino's Shop Rite stores in Vineland (Landis Ave.), Bridgeton. Millville, and Sewell.

Additionally, you can drop off food items at the Starbucks in Vineland, Sir Speedy, or Todd’s News Agency.

Food items can be dropped off at the Salvation Army in Vineland (733 Chestnut) or Bridgeton (29 W. Commerce) at any time. 

The ninth annual Turkey Drive will conclude on the days leading up to Thanksgiving. The distribution of the food will take place on Monday, November 19; Tuesday, November 20; and Wednesday, November 21, at the Salvation Army, located at 733 E. Chestnut Ave. in Vineland.

For more information, call 856-558-3825 (Vineland) or 856-451-0999 (Bridgeton).


Project Thanksgiving 

Pictured in this photo from 2017, from left: Kaganzev, Franklin Bank’s Kim Cruz and Lisa Sherwin, Food Bank of South Jersey.

Project Thanksgiving, coordinated by Alex Kaganzev, is back for another er year in Cumberland County. The project was originally started 10 years ago and is now working its way into three different South Jersey counties— Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem—according to Kaganzev.

All three counties have specific collection locations for the project.

• In Cumberland County, locations include Bottino’s ShopRite stores
in Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton; Bakers Place in Vineland, and Sun Valley Pools in Vineland.

• In Gloucester County: Bottino’s ShopRite in Sewell, the Ammons ShopRite in Mullica Hill, the Amish Markets in Mullica Hill, and the Franklin Banks in Franklinville and Woolwich Township.

• In Salem County: Franklin Bank in Pilesgrove.

All donations collected will be given to the Food Bank of South Jersey. They receive the donations and distribute to qualified families. Local pageant winners like Miss Vineland, Miss Cumberland County, and Miss South Jersey will be making guest appearances at each location again this year, according to Kaganzev.

The three main supporters for the project this year include the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA), the Boys and Girls Club of Vineland, and Clayton High’s National Honor Society Club. Other supporters include Cruisin’ 92.1 WVLT and Franklin Bank.

“These three groups, they have offered to support us this year, especially by manning the tables and helping at collection sites,” says Kaganzev.

Kaganzev, who was born and raised in Vineland, says because Cumberland County is one of the poorest counties in New Jersey, the program is important to its residents. Bridgeton is the area with the most poverty, he says, so Kaganzev wants to focus on that city.

Kaganzev is 59 years old and began volunteering by working with orphans at orphanages while he was in the Air Force years ago.

“I grew up poor, I came from a poor background,” says Kaganzev. “I was blessed to be able to work my way through college and now that I’m semi-successful I want to kind of give back to the community because I’m able to do that and I understand what it’s like to be from a poor family.”

For more information on collection site times or how to help and/or donate, visit the Project Thanksgiving NJ Facebook Page or contact Alex Kaganzev on Facebook.

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