By Will Tuell
Only in Downeast Maine can you expect to see people dressed up as turkeys, vegetables, or in other outlandish apparel frantically flapping their arms -- er, wings -- at passers-by some early October afternoon. As zany and carefree as it may seem, these volunteers from Healthy Acadia, WQDY-WCRQ Radio and a host of local schools and community groups have banded together every fall for the past eighteen years to make sure families in need have a nice Thanksgiving dinner. This year’s iteration is Oct. 6 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. at seven locations around Washington County.
“The first Turkey-A-Thon was a Calais only event in 2005. St Croix Valley Healthy Communities, partnered with WQDY,” said former WQDY/WCRQ pitch-man Jeff Demmons, whose blend of Downeast humor and passion for helping folks in need helped launch the fundraiser into the success it has become since, raising over $400,000 for area food pantries over the past eighteen years. “We did our [first] broadcast outside, on Main street in Calais. I believe it snowed. [They] had a goal of 250 turkeys for the Calais food pantry. We ended up with over 450 turkeys.”
Demmons, who is widely credited as the voice of the Turkey-A-Thon for the better part of its near-two-decade run, believes in its mission so much that he is coming out of retirement, saying, rather tongue in cheek, that big name stars were unavailable, so the radio station brought him back for another tilt.
“When I made the decision to retire, I knew that I still wanted to be a part of the Turkey-A-Thon. Bill McVicar, owner of Classic Hits 92.7/95.3 and The Border, Country 102.9, has allowed me to come back to help Healthy Acadia organize the Turkey-A-Thon and then host the live 10 hour broadcast Oct. 6,” Demmons said. “Bill could have found someone better, but in his defense, George Clooney was busy filming a new blockbuster, Matt Rife is a little edgy for our broadcast, The Red Sox will have time on their hands but they should start practicing for next year, Tom Brady agreed to do it, then he said no, then he said yes again, but one more no.......Bill even tried to contact Jelly Roll, and he said, : I'm just a long haired son of a sinner, searching for new ways I can get gone.’ Bill took that as a no.”
Volunteers have embraced Demmons sense of humor over the years, suiting up in zany costumes to draw passers-by into each of the roadside venues to collect donations of all sizes -- sometimes in snow, sleet, rain, or storm force winds with a taste of the bone-chilling temps to come. .
“Just $12 can purchase a turkey for a family of four,” Healthy Acadia said. “and your donation, in any amount, will help.”
Organizers have set a goal of $40,000, which will be split amongst the county’s network of food pantries in need of a Thanksgiving meal. Demmons added that over the past eighteen years the Turkey-A-Thon has raised upwards of $400,000, and is widely considered to be the pantries’ biggest fundraiser of the year.
“Over the past eighteen years, generous people have donated well over $400,000 to the Turkey-A-Thon -- all of that money stays right here in Washington County!” Demmons said, adding that while he may be the biggest turkey of them all, it’s the volunteers that make the Turkey-A-Thon great. “For many of the food pantries, this is one of their biggest fundraisers of the year.”
Area businesses, civic groups, schools, or community members can drop off their donation at any of the following locations: Woodland IGA in Baileyville; Four Corners Shop ‘n’ Save in Columbia; Dunkin’ in Machias; VL Tammaro in Calais; First National Bank in Eastport; Bayside Supermarket in Milbridge; or Flat Iron Corner in Lubec.
In addition to WQDY/WCRQ and Healthy Acadia, the 19th Annual Turkey-A-Thon is sponsored by Dunkin’ and V.L. Tammaro. Because of their support, Demmons says that 100% of the proceeds go directly to the food pantries themselves.
“Thanks to our sponsors, Dunkin in Calais and Machias and VL Tammaro Oil in Woodland and in Calais, 100% of the money taken in is spent at local grocery stores for gift cards which are then distributed to local food pantries for Washington County families that need a helping hand over the holiday season.”
Demmons concluded by saying that his involvement has been deeply satisfying, and that he is honored that Healthy Acadia and WQDY/CRQ ask him to help out every year.
“The Turkey-A-Thon to me is the most satisfying, humbling, heartwarming, fun, and exciting day of the year,” he said. “As The Boss, Bruce Springstein says, ‘Remember,In The End, Nobody Wins, Unless Everybody Wins.”