Long-running parish turkey drive seeks holiday donations

By Christina Gray

Pierre Smit, St. Emydius Parish’s longtime “Turkey Guy,” is gearing up with other parishioners and community volunteers to feed the hungry again this holiday season.

The San Francisco Turkey Drive, organized by Smit a decade ago, is now the single largest supplier of turkeys and hams to St. Anthony’s Dining Room for Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said. The Tenderloin District dining room feeds up to 1,000 people each day.

Smit said he expects record-high food and fuel costs to create an even higher demand at St. Anthony’s this year.

“As you have experienced for yourself in the past few months, inflation has been hitting everyone very hard,” Smit said. “Those who already were short of money are needing even more assistance. When little or no money is left, their best choice for a healthy meal is going to St. Anthony’s Dining Room.”  

Donations to the San Francisco Turkey Drive can be made in one of several forms: actual frozen turkeys delivered to the Ingleside District parish on one-day drive through drop-off dates (see below), “virtual” turkeys donated through a secure website portal at sfturkeydrive.com, or checks payable to St. Anthony’s Foundation mailed to St. Emydius.

The drive has collected more than 5,000 frozen turkeys to date.

Though St. Emydius is the hub around which the drive is centered, the popular turkey drive is not actually a parish event or ministry, but instead a neighborhood event run out of the parish.

The collaboration between the parish and the local community has been a “very positive thing” for both, said Smit, who himself incurs the few associated costs for the drive. He creates, prints, and mails flyers to announce the drive and pays for the truck to collect and transport turkeys to St. Anthony’s. Dining Room.

His mailing list has grown to nearly 9,000 donors over the years, with checks or online donations sent in from as far away as New York and Chicago. All monetary donations are “converted into turkeys,” said Smit.

The Belgium native also coordinates the dozen or more volunteers who man the parish lot on collection dates. He said he and his team have seen cars pull in with as many as 25 frozen turkeys in their cars. The drive also accepts hams, for Christmas, and fresh vegetables.

SF Turkey Drive details
One-day, drive-through drop off site:
St. Emydius Parish, 350 De Montfort Ave. (at Ashton), San Francisco.

Sat., Nov. 18: Thanksgiving drive (frozen turkeys and vegetables)

Sat., Dec. 17: Christmas drive (hams, turkeys and vegetables)

Online donations: 

Checks payable to St. Anthony’s Foundation, can be sent to SF Turkey Drive, c/o St. Emydius Church, 286 Ashton Avenue, San Francisco CA 94112

Christina Gray is the lead writer for Catholic San Francisco.