It started as a prank.
Last year, about a week before Thanksgiving, a friend placed an ad on Craigslist as a joke saying Austin Hermsen was giving away turkeys to families in Cedar Rapids and included Hermsen’s contact information.
In the hours and days that followed, Hermsen received numerous phone calls from area families in need asking about the giveaway, but Hermsen had nothing to give.
“It broke our hearts that we were getting all these calls from families that needed help, and we didn’t have any way to help them,” said Nick Dusil, Hermsen’s friend. “So we realized there was a need in the community, and we got to talking and decided we would get some friends together and see if we could help.”
With only a few days before Thanksgiving, Dusil, Hermsen and about a half-dozen friends put together a hasty fundraising effort and, within a few days, raised nearly $1,500 to purchase turkeys for families in need.
“I was definitely surprised we were able to raise so much in such a short amount of time,” Dusil said. “We only had a few days to do it and we managed to raise enough money to provide meals for 80 families.”
The campaign was so successful, Dusil and Hermsen decided to make the giveaway an annual event, thus Operation Give Birds was born.
“We really enjoyed doing it last year,” Dusil said. “So, this year, we really just wanted to do more and help more families.”
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This year, through word-of-mouth and networking via social media, the group raised more than $5,200 to purchase enough meals for 280 families.
“We’ve had people reach out to us from all over the country because they see what we’re doing and feel connected to it and they want to help,” Dusil said. “It’s really cool. People have just been giving whatever they can to help. Just last week I had a guy come up to me at lunch and give me a check, and I’d never met him before. He just wanted to pitch in what he could.”
The group handed out the meals Sunday morning at NewBo City Market in downtown Cedar Rapids. With the help of Hy-Vee, Dusil said, Operation Give Birds was able to give each family a 13-pound turkey, a 5-pound bag of potatoes, stuffing mix, a package of dinner rolls, and a couple cans each of green beans, corn and cream of mushroom soup.
“To see the reactions of the people who were receiving the food — some people had tears in their eyes — it was really meaningful,” Dusil said. “And then you think back to all the people who came together to make this happen — those who donated, our friends that stepped up to help us organize, the people at Hy-Vee — it’s been really impactful. Seeing the community come together to support these families, I mean that’s what this time of year should be all about.”
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