Despite record turkey prices, food banks help families celebrate Thanksgiving

Turkeys with a hand grabbing one.
November 16, 2022
by Alyssa Schukar

Turkeys – the star of traditional Thanksgiving meals – are smaller and more expensive this year

The bird flu has struck 50 million birds across 46 states. Turkey availability is down about a quarter from previous years, leading to more demand for a smaller number of birds at grocery stores. 

Combined with inflation, many families already having trouble putting food on the table may not be able to afford these soaring turkey prices. But food banks across the Feeding America network are ready to help families celebrate Thanksgiving with all the traditional fixings. 

Acquisition managers, like Lupe Aragonez at Harvesters food bank in Kansas City, start budgeting for holiday distributions in January after the fall migratory season when bird flu spreads.

Poultry prices have increased by 13%, Lupe said. “It’s hard to get the product, but then the price is the biggest factor. You're spending more money to get what you need.”

Harvesters food bank relies on donations and a grant from Feeding America, to fulfill its community’s holiday needs. This year, they budgeted an additional $50,000 to purchase 14,400 chickens and 16,840 turkeys, which its 760 partner agencies distribute throughout northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri. 

Rural food banks face more obstacles to source turkey for their holiday distributions, according to Joe Weeden, the Senior Director of Commodity Foods at Feeding America. Located within smaller communities, they have access to fewer wholesale and grocery partners.

Feeding America spent about 30% more this year to supply 980,000 pounds of frozen turkey to partner agencies. 

“Protein is one of the most needed items and the hardest to get,” he said. Because of the shortage, some food banks will offer pork, chicken, and other types of protein rather than holiday turkeys. 

Just three weeks before Thanksgiving, the Fredericksburg Regional Food Bank managed to secure the last of 3,100 turkeys that its 61 partner agencies will distribute in northeastern Virginia. 

Prices jumped by a quarter compared to last year, Food Sourcing Support Coordinator Latifah Lee said. They felt lucky to be able to even find the poultry.

Having access to healthy, reliable food is essential all-year round, she said. 

The holidays are “a time for everyone to come together and be thankful,” Latifah said. “Everyone deserves a great Thanksgiving meal.”

Want to ensure our neighbors facing hunger have food throughout the holidays and beyond? While donating a turkey might seem like a good option, consider instead starting a food drive or volunteering at your local food bank.