SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- The NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive kicks off on Tuesday, starting a four-week campaign to help support thousands of Central Coast families and community members in need.
"The need is huge," said Kirsten Cahoon, Good Samaritan, Director of Shelter Operations. "Covid has not only impacted the healthcare industry, it's impacted the homeless clients that we serve on a daily basis. We've have so many clients that have lost their homes, have really struggled, even worse lost their jobs, unemployment has ended and we're seeing a huge influx of people into the shelter system that are trying to get back onto their feet and an unprecedented year."
Like Good Samaritan, which operates shelters and various programs throughout Santa Barbara County, Food Bank is also experiencing a significant rise in the need for its services.
"We unfortunately are distributing food at a higher rate and historic levels," said Branna Still, SLO Food Bank Development Director. "We are anticipating an increase in need as different emergency assistance and pandemic programs have expired, in addition to the extra stress that the holidays bring, so we are really thankful for the community leaning in."
The Turkey Drive has been an important outreach campaign for NewsChannel 12 for more than 15 years.
In the past, the event centered around a one-day event that featured several drop-off locations around Northern Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
However, Covid-19 forced the Turkey Drive into a heavily modified format in 2020, which mostly focused on an online fundraising effort.
Despite a change to its longtime format, the 2020 Turkey Drive was a tremendous success, raising nearly $30,000 through its virtual campaign.
Combined with other contributions, the Turkey Drive raised almost $40,000 between the two non-profit organizations.
While the pandemic continues, the community's adjustment to Covid-related health protocols will allow NewsChannel 12 to bring back in-person drop-off locations, including at its Santa Maria studios.
"So grateful and so excited," said Cahoon. "We've been partners with NewsChannel 12 for so long and without you guys the Turkey Drive wouldn't happen and it's been so much fun to always celebrate it at the studios with your team, so we're just really grateful that we're able to do this in person, and have all of our groups that drive through come by and see us."
In addition to the NewsChannel 12 studios at 1211 W. McCoy Lane in Santa Maria, Good Samaritan will hold a donation location at Grocery Outlet Bargain Market in Lompoc.
SLO Food Bank will hold a location at California Fresh Market in Pismo Beach, at its company headquarters in San Luis Obispo, as well as a still to be determined site in North San Luis Obispo County.
"Thankfully, we live in a community that is extremely generous and compassionate and they do lean in and rally around those who need the help the most," said Still.
Donations collected through the purchase of Turkey Bucks in San Luis Obispo County will be directed to the SLO Food Bank, while those in Santa Barbara County will go to Good Samaritan Shelter.
In addition to the drop-off locations that will be held on Nov. 16, an online campaign is now up-and-running on nc12hometeam.com.
People who wish to contribute may select either SLO Food Bank or Good Samaritan and choose a monetary amount of their desire.
Another way to contribute is through the purchase of a Turkey Buck at participating area markets, including California Fresh Market in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, and Grocery Outlet Bargain Market in Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo and Los Osos.
"As you're shopping, and as you're doing your own holiday planning, you can go through the check out and just offer to purchase a Turkey Buck at whatever denomination is comfortable to you and that money will go in support of holiday meals for those in need," said Still. "We're able to stretch a dollar even further through our bulk purchasing agreements and other grants and programs, so we're able to turn one dollar into seven meals. That's 14 cents per meal, and it's not only food, but it's healthy and nutritious food."
Both Cahoon and Still emphasized just how important it is for people to help support community members that are in need right now.
"The pandemic has hit the homeless community hard," said Cahoon. "This has been a really, really tough year for them. For them to know the community loves them and supports them and is there for them is just a huge, huge blessing this time of year, so can't wait to see everyone and make it a huge success this year."
"The face of hunger has truly changed in our community," said Still. "The separation of folks who are food insecure to those that are thriving is not that far in between. It's that barista at Starbucks. It's your friend that maybe had that retail job. It's someone how had a small business and their income is no longer available because of the times."
Fortunately, both also point out just how supportive the Central Coast has been to his campaign over the years.
"We are really thankful for the community leaning in," said Still. "We wouldn't be able to provide this holiday spirit and hope to those in need without your support."
"I'm really excited to see everybody in person again and just to see the love of this community," said Cahoon. "I've been doing this for so many years, and I'm always just truly taken back of how much this community loves on their homeless population and their homeless neighbors, so I'm really excited to see that again this year."
For more information about the NewsChannel 12 Turkey Drive or to donate, click here.