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Turkey Troubles? Casper charities prepare for national turkey shortages ahead of holidays

Volunteers fill a trunk with food for Thanksgiving meals at the Salvation Army’s Goodstein Hope Center on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City File)

CASPER, Wyo. — A national shortage of turkeys could leave many families looking for alternatives this holiday season.

Local charities that serve food-insecure families promise to make sure everyone still gets their holiday meals, but the main attraction might not be the big traditional bird.

“There is going to be a shortage,” said Captain Tim Simeroth of the Casper Salvation Army Hope Center, who was working with local suppliers recently to secure as many birds as he can in advance.

“When we don’t have enough turkeys, we’re going to have hams and some pork roasts, or whole chickens,” he said. “Whatever it takes.”

“It was not a problem last year, but I don’t know how short we’re going to be this year,” he said.

The Salvation Army hands out hundreds of complete holiday meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas each year. Those meal boxes are assembled with food that has been donated, or from the Food Bank of the Rockies, and purchased locally with funding.

The turkey squeeze is a result of a number of factors. According to the New York Times, suppliers greatly reduced production during COVID when prices crashed. Now prices are spiking as demand rebounds, along with inflation pressure on bird feed and transportation. On top of that, a highly contagious avian flu has wiped out at least 3.6% of the nation’s turkeys, or about 7.3 million birds, according to the Times.

Joshua’s Store House director Deborah Davis says the pantry is also addressing the shortage. Joshua’s and the Salvation Army work closely together on the holiday meal boxes.

“We are trying to get some from the Food Bank and the surrounding grocery stores,” she said. The pantry is also dealing with price increases on canned goods and other food items.

“I have many places that are doing food drives for us right now,” she said. “So I’m hoping with that and the donations within the community that we should be OK.”

Both the Salvation Army and Joshua’s will accept food donations, particularly frozen turkeys and non-perishable items, directly from community members.

Simeroth says the Salvation Army gave out around 430 meal boxes last Thanksgiving, and expects that number to be higher this year.

“In February, on pantry days we had about 35 people come in each day,” he said, “and now between 90 and 110 families come in each day, so that’s a huge increase.”

“We’re going to need all the help we can get with this Thanksgiving,” he said.

In addition to the meals, the Salvation Army is taking applications for its annual Angel Tree, and encourages anyone who needs Christmas gifts for their children to call the office and sign up. The trees will go out into the community on the 15th, he said.