MONTVILLE, NJ – A Montville organization teamed up with a Kinnelon group to deliver more than 800 turkeys to needy families in northern New Jersey last Saturday.

Volunteers from Montville UNICO teamed up with Kinnelon’s Turkeys 4U to deliver 870 turkeys, plus food certificates, at three locations Nov. 23. An 18-year tradition for the groups, UNICO member Debra Casha calls it a labor of love.

Turkeys 4U started back when then-Kinnelon resident Blake Wheale was 14 years old and asked his parents how families ate Thanksgiving dinner if they had no family.

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“He wanted to do something to help people who ate at soup kitchens or had no turkey, so he came to our law office and started the corporation Turkeys 4U, and Montville UNICO partners with the organization to help make deliveries,” she said.

The first year, Wheale raised $5,000, which “blew me away,” Casha said. He arranged with local restaurants to cook the turkeys and Montville UNICO delivered meals using their cars, plus Wheale used a van.

“The second year he got help, and it got bigger and bigger,” she said.

Eventually Wheale graduated from Kinnelon High School and Casha helped the corporation to continue.

“The students run the corporation, with a slate of officers,” she said. “They recruit new members every year. Being in the organization, they learn spread sheets, problem solving, and they hold the meetings at our house. The members are Kinnelon High School students but it’s not affiliated with the school. The kids are all volunteers. The donations for the purchases come from the students’ letter writing campaign, and from donations through a local church.”

Co-president Julia Caci, who is a senior at Kinnelon High School, said she has been with the organization for all four years; she was invited during her freshman year by a member a grade above her.

“You have to be invited to become a member,” she said.

The letter writing campaign starts in September, the letter gets edited by Casha, and then stuffing of envelopes begins in November, Caci said.

“Some of the checks go towards purchasing next year’s turkeys, for example if they’re received in December,” she said.

This year, 11 Turkeys 4U members helped 15 UNICO volunteers deliver 410 turkeys to the Father English food pantry in Paterson.

“Some went into the freezer, but the kids also gave them to people standing in line,” Casha said. “It was the first year doing that.”

Then the group traveled to Pine Brook Fire Department, where representatives from two churches, a Boy Scout troop and individuals received 134 turkeys plus food gift certificates to buy the trimmings for a Thanksgiving meal.

Next the group traveled to the Interfaith Food Pantry in Morris Plains, where the group delivered 326 turkeys and trimmings.

Casha said the deliveries are an important supplement to November requests.

“The food pantries start calling in September because they depend on these deliveries,” she said.  “We will continue as long as possible.”

Caci said her work with the group is important to her.

“It’s important to me so that when I eat my Thanksgiving dinner, I know that others can have theirs too,” she said.

“It’s so gratifying to see these charitable students,” Casha said. “They tour the food pantries and it impacts their lives.”

Montville UNICO would like to thank Mennella’s Poultry and MyLimo for their donations to the event.

To donate to Turkeys 4U for next year, send a check made out to Montville UNICO, write “Turkeys 4U” in the memo portion and send to: P.O. Box 788 Montville, NJ 07045. Turkeys4U is a 501(c)(3).

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