Thanksgiving turkey coming out of the oven
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If A Thanksgiving Turkey Is Out Of Budget, Here’s Where To Look

Celebrating shouldn’t be income-based

by Caroline Hogeveen, Lindsay E. Mack and Jennifer Parris
Originally Published: 

By the end of 2020, the U.S. reached a record high unemployment rate of 13% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the 2021 holidays draw closer, millions of families are still feeling the effects of losing income during the pandemic. If you’re worried about how to afford Thanksgiving dinner this year, you’re certainly not alone, and there are organizations locally and nationally that offer free Thanksgiving turkeys to those in need.

With 10.5 % of U.S. households experiencing food insecurity during 2019, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, not every family was in a position to splurge on a lavish holiday meal. Add in the 2020 pandemic, and the numbers look even more serious. One study from Northwestern University found food insecurity has doubled for U.S. households because of COVID-19’s effects. Now, about those free turkey resources...

First, it's important to get your ducks in a row as early as possible — or turkeys, in this case. You'll want to contact these groups in plenty of time before Thanksgiving Day so you can ensure there's a turkey for you to claim, as well as work out all the details for picking it up or getting it delivered. Keep in mind that some turkeys are distributed the weekend or week before Thanksgiving, so you don't want to wait until the last minute. Plus, it may take a bit of investigation to figure out where your turkey is coming from, so give yourself plenty of time to get the details sorted. Bearing these tips in mind, here’s where to get a free Thanksgiving turkey for your holiday this year.

Local food banks

If you're not sure where your local food banks are, head to There, you can get the information for food banks in your specific area, along with addresses, phone numbers, and websites to get in touch. (There’s also a state-by-state guide to local food pantries if you need more choices, thanks to Give them a call or stop in to get the details about their Thanksgiving donations. If one of these food banks can't help, they can surely point you to other local orgs that can.

United Way

“We have a few options for folks in need of support this holiday season,” Southerlyn Reisig, Director of External Communications for United Way Worldwide, tells Romper via email. “Generally speaking, people who are in need of food or other resources should contact 211 to find programs available to them. And around the holidays, people can reach out to their local United Way for more information about special meal options."

Local religious organizations

If your family attends a local church, that's another excellent place to inquire about free turkeys. If you're not a member of that specific church, don't let that discourage you from reaching out for help. Many churches and temples hold food drives in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving specifically for this purpose, and you may even be able to get some side dishes, too.


Meals On Wheels

If an elderly member of your community needs a meal this Thanksgiving, contact your local Meals on Wheels organization. Because all Meals on Wheels programs operate independently, as a representative tells Romper, click the “Find Meals” tab on their website to learn more about your local program’s offers for Turkey Day.

Local meal programs

Sometimes known as soup kitchens, meal programs offer prepared hot meals at little to no cost, according to Bustle. The Homeless Shelter Directory provides a state-by-state list of soup kitchens (and food pantries and food banks) near you.

Turkey drive in your area (Operation Turkey)

Many cities offer large turkey drives around the holidays. For example, the Operation Turkey program aims to provide 45,000 free Thanksgiving meals for families in 2021. Chances are, a similar organization is providing turkeys in your community.

Local senior centers

And finally, look into what local organizations are up to this holiday season. The senior center down the street or a nearby high school may have something set up, so ask around and keep an eye on your local news sources for holiday help info.


With the rising cost of food, you might not suspect that you could get free food from your local supermarket, but you just might. For example, BJ’s Wholesale offers free turkeys plus $10 credit when you spend $100 on qualifying items. Foodtown and ShopRite are giving away a free frozen 10–20-pound turkey (or a ham) for people who use their club card and spend $400 by Thanksgiving. On your next food shopping trip, find out if your grocery store also offers a similar deal.

Your children’s school

Be sure to check your child’s backpack for papers from the school’s parent-teacher organization. Why? Well, schools may sometimes do a donation drive around the holidays or do a fundraiser to help local families in need. So speak to someone at your kid’s school to see how your family can apply to get a free turkey or Thanksgiving dinner. Typically, this information will be kept confidential.

Salvation Army

If you’re looking for a free turkey distribution center, listen for the bells… from the Salvation Army, that is. The Salvation Army will deliver a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings through its Holiday Meals Program. Depending on the requirements of your local chapter, they might be giving free turkeys for seniors, so call to see what you’ll need to do to apply.

Your employer

While you’d hardly expect your boss to show up at your door with a full Thanksgiving meal, you might reap some totally terrific turkey benefits from your employer. Case in point: Costco, which gives its employees, among other things, a free turkey for Thanksgiving. It never hurts to ask HR how they’re helping employees during the holidays. They might be giving an early bonus or a gift certificate, which can be put towards putting food on the table for Thanksgiving.

Making a picture-perfect Thanksgiving meal requires time, energy, and in many cases, a lot of money. If things are tight, look around to see what organizations are out there to help you have that beautiful meal with your loved ones — because they’re out there, ready and waiting to help you.

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