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‘This is a godsend:’ Turkey giveaway brightens Thanksgiving for Lake Worth Beach area needy

TURKEYS WERE FLYING in downtown Lake Worth Beach on Saturday, right into the hands of the people who most need them.

“I’m kind of on the low end of the totem pole for special security and disability and food stamps, so this is a godsend,’’ said Mike Rex, one of about 3,500 grateful recipients of surprise turkeys and Thanksgiving food boxes distributed in the parking lot of Church By The Glades Lake Worth Beach.

Every Saturday, local charities convert the church parking lot at 127 South M St. into a lifeline for residents who are homeless and struggling to make ends meet. From 9 a.m. to noon, volunteers with the nonprofit Restoration Bridge International hand out weekly food boxes while, on the north end of the parking lot, other charities offer free haircuts, warm burritos (Lake Worth Burrito Project), and hot showers (Dare2Care) for the homeless.

This past Saturday brought an unexpected bonus: A frozen Publix turkey along with an additional box of everything needed to cook a Thanksgiving meal, from mashed potatoes and corn to biscuits and stuffing.

“I’ve got a Thanksgiving meal!’’ Dale Lytle said as he carried a fresh turkey to the van that doubles as his home. “Now I’ve got to find a grill.’’

Volunteers hand out food boxes to the needy in Lake Worth Beach on Nov. 19, 2022

The handouts were courtesy of a partnership among RBI, Life.Church Wellington and Church by the Glades. Life.Church Wellington, which conducted a food drive for RBI’s Thanksgiving meals, also provided a donation that allowed RBI to buy 600 turkeys that were given away Saturday.

For 20 years, RBI’s food pantry has helped feed 180,000 people a year through distribution partnerships with groups such as the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, homeless outreach groups and area churches.

A crucial partnership is the one started six years ago with Church By The Glades Lake Worth Beach, which has opens its parking lot every Saturday morning to RBI to distribute food donated by local Publix, Trader Joe's, Walmart and Target locations.

“This is the first time in 10 years we did a Thanksgiving distribution’’ in Lake Worth Beach, RBI founder Dan West said on Saturday.

Dan West, founder of Restoration Bridge International, surveys boxes of fresh turkeys to be given to the needy Nov. 19 2022.

On a typical Saturday, RBI hands out 600 food boxes at the church. That’s three times what the charity handed out when it started partnering at Church by the Glades 10 years ago.

They come in cars, on bikes and on foot.

“The sad thing is that the need is increasing so dramatically,’’ said Tina Tutwiler, an RBI volunteer. “So many families who didn't think they would be in this situation or wouldn’t need a handout are coming. It's growing every week.’’

And homeless people are not the only recipients.

“It’s you and me,’’ she said. “You’ve got some who are really low income. You have others who are middle income but with the increase in rents and high costs of everything they've had to sacrifice food in order to pay their bills. They come to us to help supplement their food.’’

Simone Derici

In Lake Worth Beach, about a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. But recipients of the Saturday food drives come from towns all around Lake Worth Beach, like 60-year-old Simone Derici of West Palm Beach who lives on a fixed income and suffers from a heart condition.

This past Saturday, Derici and others started arriving at the church before 5 a.m., early birds desperate to make sure they’ll get a box of food that otherwise would be an unaffordable luxury.

“When you see the people coming through the line, you see the pain on their faces. You see really beat up cars coming through here, you see families with four kids in the back seat,’’ said John Whittaker, an RBI board member who helped coordinate the Thanksgiving handout.

By 9 a.m., the queue of cars went south on L Street and wrapped north on M Street around the church property where volunteers guided motorists into the parking lot. Rows of cars inched toward a first section of tables piled with the usual weekly handouts of produce, vegetables and boxes.

“Pop the trunk!” or "Pop the hatch!" volunteers said as they carried boxes toward cars, and many recipients figured that was it — that’s how it works every Saturday. But this time the motorists were directed into another queue in the parking lot where frozen turkeys and the second box of Thanksgiving staples were carried to their cars.

Some recipients, from cultures that don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, may not have understood why they were getting a second box of food, but they were happy to receive it.

“We’re all just a couple of bad decisions away from being in that line,’’ Pastor Sean Lavender of Life.Church Wellington said as he wheeled turkeys on a dolly from the refrigerated trailer of an RBI truck.

Jesus Betancourt (right) thanks Rob Lopez of Church by the Glades Lake Worth before pedaling home with his food boxes

Thomas Stone, who said he’s made too many bad decisions over the last 25 years, broke into tears after collecting his food boxes on Saturday. He said he has been struggling to make ends meet since he was released from prison in April after serving five years for armed robbery.

He said he makes gas money by selling his plasma to local blood banks.

“I’m trying to turn my life around,’’ he said. “The love these people show is just amazing.’’ He said he was looking forward to sharing the turkey on Thanksgiving Day with his roommates at The Lord’s Place in Boynton Beach, a homeless shelter.

Countless other charities across Florida and the United States offer free Thanksgiving meals for the needy every year. RBI officials are happy to help just one segment of the needy, in and around Lake Worth Beach.

“We’re changing lives here,’’ Whittaker said. “It’s more than just handing out food. We're trying to make a connection with the community.’’

Adam, a Church by the Glades volunteer, shows of a Thanksgiving food box destined for a needy family (Photo by Tina Tutwiler)

Children admire Thanksgiving food boxes given to their mother Nov. 19. 2022. at a Lake Worth Beach food drive (Photo by Tina Tutwiler)

Volunteer hands food box to Thomas Stone.

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


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