Largest Fayetteville Thanksgiving food drive forced to cancel due to COVID-19 pandemic

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thanksgiving across the Sandhills won't be the same for many families this year. COVID-19 has forced organizers of Operation Turkey to ground efforts this year and it's impacting many.

"Now that it's not. I have to start looking for something else," said Michelle Wheatley. "We're very saddened. I'm on a really, really tight budget. By the time I pay the bills, there is absolutely nothing left. Nothing. It's hard. I'm sure we will find another food bank to help with it."

This Thanksgiving just won't be the same for Wheatley, she's a single mom of three girls and is still recovering from a 2019 house fire that left her family homeless. Fast forward to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced her to lose her job. Her saving grace for feeding her daughter this Thanksgiving was Operation Turkey.

Venassia Gunter runs Operation Turkey, which is an effort that provides free Thanksgiving meals to more than 15,000 people in nine counties across the Sandhills each year. It requires hundreds of volunteers to prepare.

"We cannot have that close proximity of that many people to cook and deliver meals. We have 523 turkeys to cook and we have a lot of concerned volunteers. They do this out of the kindness of their hearts," said Gunter.

The organizer has a storage unit filled with dried goods and other donated items that will remain until next year's effort. Meanwhile, Wheatley is already preparing her daughters and planning ahead for what is expected to be a tough holiday season.

"I'll do the best I can for them. I don't know how much it will be or what it'll be but I'll do my best to make it special for them," said Wheatley.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.