Kelly Gates was living under the Blue Heron Bridge a few years ago when someone showed up on Thanksgiving day with a turkey dinner that changed his life.
At that time, he was just happy to get a meal. Now, he realizes it was so much more than that. The Big Heart Brigade, a non-profit organization of police, firefighters, neighbors and business leaders, partners with Christ Fellowship to provide at least 75,000 meals to people such as Gates each year.
Gates, a Marine Corps veteran, eventually found his way to the VA Medical Center, which helped him get an apartment. He took a walk one day and ended up at Christ Fellowship, where they recruited him to serve with the brigade. That’s when he realized the same people fed him the previous year.
“They don’t even realize the impact they have on people’s lives,” Gates said. “This saved me. It gave me another chance.”
Each full meal only costs about $2 to produce, thanks to the help of business partnerships. The entire venture costs the brigade about $180,000 overall, Big Heart Brigade Director DJ Fetterman said. This year, though, the brigade is $25,000 to $30,000 short because bird flu increased turkey costs by 30 percent.
They have the preparation of 2,000 turkeys in four days down to a science.
About a dozen volunteers gathered around sunrise Tuesday to unload 19- to 23-pound birds from one of many tractor-trailers behind Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue Station 3. An assembly line schlepped the turkeys onto four tables, where the crew cut them open, seasoned them and prepped them to be loaded onto three enormous, propane-powered grills. Each grill holds 100 turkeys.
The birds will cook about four and a half hours, until they’re golden brown. Roughly 4,000 volunteers pack containers with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and pumpkin bread. Agencies pick up the meals starting about 5:45 a.m. Thanksgiving Day. Christ Fellowship delivers meals to Pahokee and Belle Glade, Fetterman said.
The brigade started a prayer team a few years ago to also serve volunteers, Vice President Bryon Scholz said.
“The big celebration for so many people is we got it done, we got to change people’s lives and we got to pray with people,” Scholz said. “We got to impact the people that came to serve. That’s kind of a double-win for us.”
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To donate to the Big Heart Brigade: https://ipn.intuit.com/pay/BigHeartBrigade.
Big Heart Brigade Thanksgiving by the numbers:
6,000 pounds of stuffing
3,600 pounds of potatoes
12,500 pounds of green beans
1,500 gallons of propane
20 refrigerated diesel trucks