Under the Radar: Turkeys not just for the needy

Giveaway of Thanksgiving baskets includes no income limit

Editor's Note: This story is part of a yearlong occasional series about townships in Illinois.

STERLING – Sterling and Coloma townships advertise their annual effort to distribute turkeys as helping the needy.

The poor benefit from the program, but those with greater means can, as well. It has no income requirement.

In 2011, Matt Howze and Debra Burke, the supervisors of Sterling and Coloma townships, respectively, pleaded for contributions to the Thanksgiving baskets program.

“All of your donations will be used to give needy families in the Rock Falls and Sterling areas a Thanksgiving dinner,” they wrote in a Sauk Valley Media guest column.

This year, the townships each are contributing $5,000 to the program. 

People had until earlier this month to apply for a Thanksgiving basket.

In a recent interview, Howze said he didn’t know of any people with higher incomes who have received turkeys. But he said it is possible, because the program has no income limits.

He said the townships try to gear their efforts toward general assistance recipients. Those are people who have already received aid from the townships, one of their required functions.

On Tuesday, the townships plan to distribute 1,200 turkeys. Some will be delivered, while many others will be given away at the Sterling Township garage, where a line forms. 

Mary Bowman, Coloma’s cemetery manager and a volunteer for the Thanksgiving basket program, calls it the “Great Turkey Giveaway.”

She said she believed in giving turkeys to the needy, but that she didn’t want those with higher incomes to get them.

“They don’t have to be needy to get them,” Bowman said. “There are Escalades that drive up and get them. Could we put the money to better use, like setting up a soup kitchen? Are we spending wisely with the Great Turkey Giveaway? Once people find out there are no requirements, will the townships have to get more turkeys?”

Howze said Sterling Township’s money for the Thanksgiving baskets doesn’t come from the general assistance fund, which must go to the poor. Rather, he said, the township taps its community fund, which has no such requirement.