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Brother, can you spare a turkey?

St. Vincent de Paul needs about 750 for holiday meals. The society hopes you can help.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 20, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- When it comes to cooking for armies, the St. Vincent de Paul Society knows a little something.

This past fiscal year, for example, the Catholic social service agency served 176,843 free meals to homeless people and others down on their luck.

That includes breakfast, lunch and dinner in the society's soup kitchen near downtown St. Petersburg, where needy people exist amid a mini-boom in development.

Thanksgiving, no surprise, is among the busiest days of the year for St. Vincent de Paul.

Bottom line: St. Vincent needs a lot of turkeys.

About 750, based on experience, said Sophie Sampson, society president.

The society is asking businesses, churches, civic groups and individuals to contribute the big birds. Canned goods, gift certificates or cash contributions also are welcome, Sampson said.

The society serves Thanksgiving Day dinner, including trimmings, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteers also make home visits to poor families, delivering food baskets.

Other baskets are given to people who come to the food center at 401 15th St. N.

"Believe it or not, a lot of people come the day before Thanksgiving," Sampson said. "I guess they think they'll be able to afford to buy food, and then they can't, and they come to us."

Besides the society's Thanksgiving Day spread, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are offering a preholiday meal at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 25 at the food center, Sampson said.

The Devil Rays bring their own food and expect to serve about 200. They usually put on their feast at Tropicana Field, but Cirque du Soleil's presence there caused a relocation.

About 400 people usually show up for the St. Vincent de Paul meal the day of the holiday, Sampson said.

Worth noting: Meals have become even more savory lately because the new head cook used to work in an area resort, Sampson said.

"She's a nutritionist. The meals are well-balanced. She does beautiful work," Sampson said.

Contributions can be taken to the food center 7-10 a.m., seven days a week. The day before Thanksgiving, they'll be accepted as late as 9 p.m. Sampson said.

For information, call 823-2516.

Turkey trimmings

* The Society of St. Vincent de Paul served 176,843 meals during fiscal year 2002.

* The society gave out 1,348 food baskets during that period.

* About 111,355 pounds of food was donated to the society's kitchen.

* Estimated number of turkeys the society says it needs for Thanksgiving: 750

* Number of turkeys the society has on hand now: About 20

* The society will cook 30 turkeys for Thanksgiving and give away hundreds more.

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