Turkeys galore: Rhonda Lee prepares for a weekend of Thanksgiving dinner giveaways

Katelyn Waltemyer
Jackson Newspapers
Rhonda Lee and her son Gattlin Akers pack Thanksgiving bags for families in need.

COTTAGEVILLE  Rhonda Lee has a freezer packed to the brim with turkeys. So does her sister-in-law, her cousin and her mom. They're all for Lee's Thanksgiving dinner giveaway. 

Lee, of Cottageville, began a food pantry when COVID-19 plagued the United States in March 2020. Last year she gave away 28 meals for Thanksgiving and this year she already has 30 requests. 

Each family will receive fixings like mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, cans of corn and green beans, a dessert and of course, a turkey. 

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She hasn't had any difficulties finding turkeys this year, but she has had some worries about the frozen birds. She was jolted awake from her sleep one night because of a nightmare: her freezer door unlatched, the turkeys came tumbling out during the night and by the time she found them in the morning they were thawed. 

Her actual freezer with the turkeys has a lock on it though, so she was able to calm down quickly after waking up. 

Helping people in need is what this season is all about, Lee said. This year she was able to raise $1,200 for the dinners. This is her way of showing people they aren't alone. 

"I would not enjoy my holiday if I didn't know we had helped somebody else be able to enjoy theirs," Lee said. 

With the holiday quickly approaching, Lee has been dashing the aisles of grocery stores ensuring that she has plenty of supplies to help families in need who reach out closer to the holiday. 

Lee and her family have created a drive-thru-like set up in their front yard for families to pick up their dinners Saturday, Nov. 20. Sunday she will set up camp in the Ravenswood Dollar Tree parking lot at 11 a.m. and the Ripley Dollar Tree parking lot at 1 p.m. to hand out dinners. She said she will try to bring extra items for people who may walk up and ask for help Sunday.

While she's doing that, her husband will travel across Jackson County delivering meals to people who don't have vehicles. People in need can place a Thanksgiving dinner order by messaging Rhonda Lee on her Facebook or calling her at (304) 532-2977. 

It's a family affair 

The room in her basement that holds all of her pantry supplies has transformed into an assembly line of Thanksgiving dinner bags. 

Her son, Gattlin Akers, arrived home for the holiday and began helping Lee make bags without being asked. He knows the drill. Each bag gets the same amount of food. One bag can feed a family of four, two bags can feed a family of eight and so on. 

Thanksgiving has always been a big deal at Lee's house. Lewis Akers, Lee's other son, said Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. He loves watching his mom devote so much of her time to helping people in need, especially for Thanksgiving. 

"Just getting together simply to be with your family and eat I think is one of the most simple joys," Lewis said. "I think that's why it's important to allow people to have a meal."

Even though Lee is spending her weekend giving out meals, she said anyone who still needs help afterward just needs to reach out. 

"We're here," Lee said. "It's not too late to reach out." 

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— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at kwaltemyer@jacksonnewspapers.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.