Alumni Turkey Project Provides More Holiday Meals During a Year That Needed It the Most

Drexel professional staff distributing food on Dec. 19 for the Alumni Turkey Project.
Drexel professional staff distributing food on Dec. 19 for the Alumni Turkey Project.

While certain aspects of the Drexel University’s 47th Alumni Turkey Project were changed this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission and need for Drexel Alumni to provide holiday meals to Philadelphia families became more pronounced than ever.

“We know that this year has been very challenging on a personal level for many of the organizations and families that we work with,” said Drexel Alumni Board of Governors Chair Amish Desai ’03. “So, even though we knew the pandemic might make our efforts around the Alumni Turkey Project look different, we were more committed than ever to ensuring that we could continue to serve more than 2,000 families in the Philadelphia region, as we have done each year for more than four decades.”

This year, the Drexel community came together in ways they hadn’t before — breaking records and warming hearts. Originally planning to purchase 2,000 turkeys and 7,000 nonperishable side dishes, Drexel Alumni raised a record-breaking $92,000 to buy more than 2,400 turkeys and 14,000 sides to give to 52 community organizers to share with their communities.

The overwhelming generosity and support from Drexel alumni as well as faculty, professional staff, students and friends of the University was also demonstrated on Giving Tuesday, in which the University doubled its fundraising goal to raise more than $30,000 to share among Drexel partners and programs related to food insecurity. The Alumni Turkey Project benefitted from that, as well as Drexel’s student food pantry, Mario’s Market; the Student Meal Swipe Donation Program for students in need to swipe into the dining hall without a meal plan; and the Emergency Fund for Families at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, which provides basic needs, including groceries, to patient families.

But for all of the ways in which the Drexel community came together this year, adherence to COVID-19 guidelines established by Drexel and the City of Philadelphia meant that alumni volunteers could not gather on campus to give the meals to community organizers. Instead, to ensure the safety of the University’s community members and organizations, 20 Drexel professional staff members donned personal protective equipment (PPE) and followed social distancing guidelines to participate in the in-person distribution of turkeys on Dec. 19.

Also new this year was a partnership with Sharing Excess, a nonprofit founded by Evan Ehlers ’19, to reduce food waste and combat hunger by connecting colleges and communities. Sharing Excess handled the distribution of canned and nonperishable goods, which included everything from stuffing to vegetables to cranberry sauce.

“He was a key partner to us in ensuring that we could get food items into the hands of our community partners,” said Desai. “His organization is a great example of the innovative thinking and collaborative work that needs to take place to address the critical issues within our communities.”

Ehlers also participated in a Dec. 17 panel, “Addressing Hunger and Food Insecurity in Our Communities,” that was hosted by Drexel Alumni and featured representatives from local and international organizations. Moderated by Drexel’s Center for Hunger-Free Communities, the panel discussed barriers, solutions and the impact of COVID-19 on food insecurity. More than 100 alumni signed up for the panel, and were later sent a resource guide, which you can download here as a PDF, sharing information on how to take action and support those issues and organizations.

“Whether it’s simply having a conversation with our families about the needs in our communities, finding ways to reduce our own food waste, or getting involved with local organizations, this year’s Alumni Turkey Project showed that each one of us has a role to play in addressing these challenges, and collectively, we can come together to make an impact,” said Desai.