With less than a week to go until Thanksgiving, Roberto Hernandez is still 1,137 turkeys short of his goal of 7,137, just like last year.
“I’m hunting,” said Hernandez, wearing a wide-brimmed hat that features a picture of a turkey. “We’ve got enough for Friday, Saturday and Monday. I have a week to come up with the rest.”
Mission Food Hub plans to give away turkeys at 701 Alabama St. this Friday, next Monday and Wednesday. On Saturday, volunteers will drive turkeys to 900 families who are disabled, elderly or infected with Covid-19 in the Mission and the surrounding neighborhoods. However, they still don’t have enough turkeys for Wednesday.
It’s not like Hernandez didn’t plan ahead. “I learned last year that turkeys aren’t like chickens. You have to order the turkeys in April.” After being forced to replace a small number of turkeys with chickens last year, Hernandez’s initial order was for 6,000 turkeys, which he assumed would be enough.
But eight months is a long time.
First, because of the supply-chain breakdown and labor market shortage, the price of turkey went up by 30 percent, which meant Hernandez could no longer afford his order. The Hub countered by putting out fundraising ads online. Thirty dollars is enough to sponsor a turkey, while $150 can feed a family of eight with both turkey and side dishes.
The trickier problem for Hernandez is missing turkeys. “In April, they were already saying that by June 15, everything would go back to normal,” said Hernandez. However, the lingering effects of the pandemic, plus the end of unemployment benefits in September, have led more locals to rely on the food bank.
Every day, Hernandez makes at least 10 calls, hoping to fill the turkey void. Having heard “no” too many times, the veteran turkey hunter now has a trick for persuading merchants to sell him birds. “I start by asking for 1,000,” he said and smiled, like a big kid. “Even if I only want 300 from them.”
Even so, it’s hard. “When I get someone to give me 50 turkeys. I get happy. I’m very happy, very happy,” Hernandez said, throwing up his hands in a gesture of joy.
“I believe I can get it done,” he said. “What keeps me motivated is these families. I want every family to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s a day that only comes once a year.”
“Food gives you comfort. There were certain times in my life I went hungry. And I know that feeling,” said Hernandez. So he and the Latino Task Force set up the Mission Food Hub in early 2020, at first running it out of Hernandez’s garage.
This Thanksgiving — “Dia de Gracias,” in Spanish — Hernandez is offering far more than just turkey. The selections also include eggnog, potatoes, bread, salsa, apple pie, pumpkin pie, cranberries, and even a recipe for Pan Con Pavo (turkey with bread)!
“In this country, prior to the pandemic, there were people working two or three jobs just to be able to pay rent,” Hernandez said. “Now they are home, and they’ve been able to cook and sit down and share a meal with the family. To me, that’s one of the most beautiful outcomes of this pandemic. It’s brought families back together.”