Brenda Street said she goes "all out" when she prepares her family's Thanksgiving meal.
The retired Air Force sergeant puts on her best apron, plays favorite music in her Mastic Beach home and fixes a cornucopia of sweet and mashed potatoes, vegetables, pies and two kinds of meat for herself, her 22-year-old daughter and her 84-year-old mother.
But Street said she can't do it all on her modest income, which is why she was one of dozens of veterans who lined up on Thursday for free turkeys and trimmings at the John J. Lynch Veterans Place in Yaphank.
The emergency shelter was one of at least five stops where Hauppauge nonprofit Island Harvest planned to give away about 2,400 turkeys in the week before Thanksgiving.
"Around this time of year, you're strapped for cash. You're not really broke but it's hard for me to make a meal," Street said. "I don't think I could do this without them this year."
Dozens of cars lined up on Mill Road outside the shelter Thursday — a testament to the poverty faced by some veterans and their families.
Many veterans struggle to find work and make ends meet on high-cost Long Island when they return home from military service, said Marcelle Leis, director of veterans services for the Association of Mental Health and Wellness, which operates the shelter through its Suffolk County United Veterans program.
"It's often hard for them to transfer what they did in the military to civilian life," Leis said.
Suffolk PBA recording secretary Carl Glaser said 25 to 30 members of the police union helped collect turkeys on Nov. 11 during a Veterans Day food drive. He and other police volunteers helped hand out the birds and direct traffic Thursday on a sunny but chilly morning.
"To me, it's just a way to give back to the men and women who keep the country free and keep us safe," Glaser said.
Island Harvest president Randi Shubin Dresner said the Yaphank event was part of the organization's Operation: Hope project, which helps address the unique needs of veterans.
Dresner said Island Harvest has given away about 6,000 turkeys since Nov. 1, and thousands more will be donated to families through the end of the year.
"It's not just about turkeys," she said. "It's all of the families we're helping. ... When they're dealing with stressful situations, it really could turn things around for them."
Island Harvest will distribute turkeys and/or trimmings at these locations. For information, call 631-873-4775 or visit islandharvest.org.
Friday, noon to 2 p.m.
Liberty Landing Village, 52 Portion Rd., Lake Ronkonkoma
Sunday, noon to 2 p.m.
Veterans of Foreign Wars, 19 Colonial Springs Rd., Wheatley Heights
Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
New York Department of Labor, 301 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville
Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Freeport Armory, 63 Babylon Tpke., Freeport
Dec. 13, 9:30 to 11 a.m.
American Legion Hall, 160 Marvin Ave., Hempstead