Operation Turkey Convoy delivers

Carla Swartz and her grandsons, Hunter and Kalob Hargiss, look over their directions outside the Kansas City Rescue Mission and map their route.

First to Prospect Avenue, then over to Independence Avenue, then down to Third Street.

For the next two hours, as most people were home Thursday with family and friends, cooking their Thanksgiving meals, the three were traveling in Swartz’s blue Nissan Sentra into unknown neighborhoods — sometimes getting lost for a few minutes only for Hunter to get them back on track.

They met strangers: a family of five, a woman still in her pink pajamas, and a grandma who likes to give out hugs.

And they delivered everyone on their list a still-warm turkey dinner, prepared by the Rescue Mission and carefully packed in white Styrofoam.

“I want them to know it’s not all about them,” Swartz, of Kansas City, said, gesturing to her two grandsons. “And that it feels so good to give to others.”

The three were the first to head out Thanksgiving morning for the Rescue Mission’s inaugural Operation Turkey Convoy. By early afternoon, 40 cars of volunteers were expected to deliver meals to 500 people, many who were seniors living alone or families living in poverty and unable to afford a holiday meal.

Because this was the first year for the convoy, organizers didn’t know what to expect. And though the high number of people requesting meals didn’t surprise mission officials, the willingness of people to share stories did.

“Sometimes they just want to talk,” said Zach Story, the mission’s volunteer coordinator who helped run the convoy operation.

One woman said she had just put her husband in a nursing home. Another woman had family two or three states away and couldn’t travel there for Thanksgiving.

“There are a lot who are just lonely,” Story added.

Before the deliveries started, volunteers scooped dressing and potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce into the Styrofoam containers. Each person also got a good portion of turkey, a roll and piece of pie.

Tara Richardson supervised it all. Ever since she started as the mission’s food service manager three years ago, she wanted to do an outreach such as this.

So excited when the day finally arrived, she had set her alarm for 5 a.m. One of her cooks had already arrived at 1 a.m. to finish 20 pans of potatoes and 18 pans of green beans.

“This is the job meant for me,” Richardson said, smiling. “This is my Ministry.”

Same for Swartz and her grandsons. The night before, they helped members of their church, Lenexa Baptist, deliver food to residents living in a Johnson County apartment complex.

“It makes me feel good helping people,” said Hunter, 13. Kalob, 11, nodded in agreement.

As the family reached the first floor apartment of Beverly Bailey, the door flew open. With her toddler grandson standing at her side, Bailey smiled wide and invited everyone inside.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said. “… Thanks for taking time out of your Thanksgiving, away from your family, to bring us something.”

A couple weeks ago, Bailey didn’t know what she, her daughter and grandson would do for Thanksgiving.

“I was counting pennies,” she acknowledged.

Then she heard about the mission’s Operation Turkey Convoy and signed up. And when she went to the Don Bosco Center, she also got a turkey and ham and other trimmings.

Now she’s set for Thanksgiving. And a few days after.

“God Bless you,” she says as she hugs Swartz, then Hunter and Kalob.

That’s what it’s all about, Swartz said after meeting Bailey.

“To see the smile on their face, that’s enough for me,” Swartz noted. “It gives you a warm feeling.”

She and her grandsons headed to two more houses. Then it was back home to their family, content to know that on this holiday, four other families had their own thanksgiving dinner, delivered to them by people who were once complete strangers.