Thanksgiving charity by surprise

Published 9:22 am Thursday, November 22, 2012

Billy Eklund and his family will be treated to a special holiday this Thanksgiving. Billy’s family was selected to receive a Thanksgiving care package which will be delivered on Thanksgiving Day. Billy is seated with his sisters Caitlyn, left, and Abigail, right, his mom, Jennifer, and her boyfriend, Rick Dubuisson.

Family receives Thanksgiving meal from Village Co-op

Thanksgiving was going to be a burden for Jennifer Eklund’s family this year. While she always celebrates the holidays, she and her family recently fell on tough times. Eklund’s boyfriend, Rick Dubuisson, had lost a job for a while, and the family’s budget was stretched tight.

Billy Eklund sits on the couch with his sister Abigail and mother, Jennifer, at the family's home Tuesday night.

Yet Eklund wasn’t looking for a handout, and she still would have put together the best Thanksgiving dinner she could have for her boyfriend and three kids. It’s just that someone beat her to the punch.

“We were stressing about what we were going to do, and the next day we get this phone call,” Eklund said. “It definitely, definitely helped.”

Email newsletter signup

That surprise phone call wasn’t long. Several days ago, the man on the other end told Eklund not to buy a Thanksgiving dinner this year because one would be at their doorstep by 1:30 p.m. Thursday, delivered by the Austin Hy-Vee.

“I was in shock, seriously in shock,” Jennifer said.

The gift was possible with help from Village Cooperative senior housing in Austin.

“We purchased the meal,” said Bob Knutson, chair of Village Cooperative’s board. “We thought we’d do something for the community.”

He said the board members approved of the idea this year just as they did last year. They surveyed faculty and staff from the office, kitchen and classrooms at Neveln Elementary to get an idea for who would benefit from a Thanksgiving dinner. Billy Eklund’s name was chosen.

“It was a very good idea,” Knutson said.

Yet the surprise factor is still partially intact. Eklund knows the meal is coming from Hy-Vee, but as of Wednesday, she didn’t know exactly how everything came together.

She does suspect one thing, however: “I don’t know what all they are bringing, but it’s probably more than what we would have had,” she said.

Willy Stephenson, catering manager with Hy-Vee, said the Eklunds would be getting a 10- to 12-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie, gravy and butter delivered to their home on Thanksgiving. The meal will require relatively little preparation.

“It’s precooked,” he said. “It just needs to be heated.”

Yet the Eklunds aren’t the first to receive an anonymous Thanksgiving gift. Plenty of people are dropping names and addresses at places like Hy-Vee, purchasing meals for families that could use them.

Stephenson has been working with Hy-Vee for 18 years and said he regularly sees people come in and order food for families in need. People tell the catering department what they want sent and where to send it, then foot the bill.

“They’re awesome,” Stephenson said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s the season to do this kind of stuff.”

Eklund was unaware that people are doing that, and it brought her some comfort, now and for the future.

“This is the first I’ve ever heard of it,” she said. “I wish we weren’t in this situation, so we could do this for other people.”

The rest of the family is uplifted by the giving spirit, too. While Billy may be a little shy to say it, he is thankful to have a good meal with his family on Thanksgiving.

Dubuisson wants the donors to know that the family graciously accepts the gift.

“It’s good to know there are people out there with good hearts,” he said.

—Kevin Coss contributed to this report.