Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest, speaks at...

Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest, speaks at a news conference at its Melville headquarters to kick off its annual Turkey and Trimmings Collection Campaign Tuesday. Credit: Rick Kopstein

With Long Islanders facing skyrocketing grocery prices, and the supply of turkeys diminished because of an Avian Flu outbreak, Island Harvest Food Bank on Tuesday launched its Thanksgiving collection drive.

Island Harvest, a hunger relief and social services organization, is forecasting that it will donate 18,500 turkeys, along with thousands of pounds of trimmings, this Thanksgiving. That's a near 10% increase from the almost 17,000 turkeys Island Harvest collected and distributed last year, and nearly double the 8,500 turkeys it gave to needy families in 2019.

"Too many of our neighbors are one job loss, one flat tire, one missed paycheck or one medical emergency away from disaster," said Randi Shubin Dresner, president and chief executive of Island Harvest at a news conference at the group's Melville warehouse. 

Island Harvest’s Turkey and Trimmings Collection Campaign runs from Nov. 1 to Dec. 30 and encourages Long Islanders to donate all the items necessary to complete a traditional holiday-style meal for residents struggling to feed their families. During the campaign, collection events will be held at area supermarkets, schools and places of worship.

What to know

  • Island Harvest, a Melville food bank, has kicked off its Turkey and Trimmings Collection Campaign with the goal of donating 18,500 turkeys, and thousands of pounds of trimmings to families in need
  • The price of a traditional Thanksgiving meal is expected to rise again this year, due in part to inflation, from just over $53.31 last year to nearly $61, in 2022
  • The Avian Flu outbreak, which has killed more than 7 million turkeys nationwide, is also causing the price of Long Islanders' holiday meals to spike this year

With inflation rates at a 40-year high and grocery stores prices up an average of 11% compared to last year, many Long Islanders are turning to food banks, pantries and soup kitchens to feed their families.

In 2020, the price of a Thanksgiving dinner — including turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberry sauce, veggie tray and pumpkin pie — for 10 people was $46.90, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. In 2021, those costs grew 14% to $53.31 and this year that same dinner is expected to cost nearly $61 — an almost 13% increase, Island Harvest calculated.

As of October,, the price per pound for an 8-to-16-pound turkey is $1.99, a 73% increase from 2021 when it was $1.15 per pound, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And turkeys aren't the only more expensive food item. Bread prices have increased by 16.2%; eggs by almost 40%, milk by 17% and fruits and vegetables by 9.4%, according to estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Karen Drago, executive director of the Patchogue Medford Youth and Community Services Organization, said her group has recently gone from serving 500 individuals each month to more than 800 people, largely with items donated from Island Harvest.

"And it really helps us to provide the food and some mental stability to our families that we serve because … along with food insecurity comes other issues," such as unemployment, lack of housing and health care, she said.

Jannie West-Mays started a food bank at St. John's Baptist Church in Westbury during the pandemic after the death of her brother, a pastor at the church. The pantry, she said, has gone from serving 25 families to 93 families, all with food from Island Harvest.

"And it's changed the lives of the people in Westbury," West-Mays said.

Inflation is not the only factor taking a pinch out of the wallets of Long Islanders' holiday food budget this year. 

A contagious strain of avian influenza — or Bird Flu — ran rampant this spring, and spread across the country by migrating birds and contaminated droppings, affecting the price of the popular Thanksgiving meal centerpiece. Roughly 7.3 million turkeys have died from the virus, with outbreaks observed in 42 states so far, federal officials have said.

"And all of this sets off a chain reaction," Shubin Dresner said. " … We know that it's going to be a difficult year for our community. But we also know it's going to be difficult year for Island Harvest to respond to the needs across our communities."

Among the items being collected by Island Harvest are frozen turkeys or chicken, ham, stuffing, boxed mashed potatoes, gravy, canned yams and soups, cranberry sauce and beans along with personal care items like soap, shampoo and deodorant. Cash and supermarket gift cards are also accepted.

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