It’s that time of year again. Stew Leonard’s annual Turkey Brigade kicked off the Thanksgiving holiday in the East Meadow store, distributing turkeys to organizations from across Nassau County — including a parish from Wantagh and Levittown — to help feed those in need this holiday season.
In a tradition that dates back 37 years, Stew Leonard’s typically distributes 2,000 to 3,000 turkeys to organizations like churches, food pantries, youth groups and senior housing units near any of its six stores in Connecticut and Long Island. This year, its second Long Island store, in East Meadow, gave out about 300 turkeys to 16 organizations on Nov. 16.
“Traditionally, every time around Thanksgiving, we have what we like to call the annual Turkey Brigade, where we donate birds to different areas,” said Nat Zappia, a store manager. “It really highlights Stew’s motto, which is ‘Giving a little to a lot.’”
St. Frances de Chantal Catholic Church, in Wantagh, and St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church, in Levittown, were both part of the Turkey Brigade, receiving birds to donate to local families.
“The idea is that these organizations donate the turkeys to families in need,” said Dona Seal, of Seaford, who began working at the first Long Island Stew Leonard’s, in Farmingdale, last year, and is now at the East Meadow store. “It’s always a great event for Stew to host,” she added. “We see so many smiles, and we get so many thank-yous.”
Because the East Meadow location opened in August, launching the Turkey Brigade required extra effort by the staff. Seal said that because she had worked at the Pathmark supermarket that the Stew Leonard’s replaced for more than 10 years, she was familiar with East Meadow’s churches and youth organizations. She also had several organizations in mind in the Wantagh-Seaford area that could benefit from the turkey donations.
“I picked up the phone and made call after call,” Seal said. “I can’t tell you the number of calls I made, but I really did call every church and every other organization you can think of. I also had help from the Stew Leonard’s staff. We all called, and made sure that no one was left out.”
In total, 12 organizations collected boxes of turkeys as a result of Seal’s and her colleagues’ calls. This year, Stew Leonard’s partnered with WKJY-FM, which asked its listeners to send organization nominations to receive turkeys. Listeners chose the Nassau County Veterans Service, in East Meadow’s Nassau University Medical Center; 1 in 9/Hewlett House; the Kiwanis Club of Uniondale; and Gateway Youth Outreach, in Elmont.
“This time of year — and all year round, really — is a tough time, when people are need of food,” Zappia said. “The Stew Leonard family likes to give back, and it sort of gets the word out there that we’re part of the community as well.
“At the end of the day, this is a family,” he added, “and we like to treat our community like a family, too.”