by M. Anthony Davis
This week marks the sixth annual Rainier Beach Turkey Bowl Week of Service, and even with new COVID-19 restrictions putting our state back under lockdown, Cortez Charles and his team of youth and community partners have found a way to make this event just as impactful as ever.
In previous years, the three-day event started with youth making turkey sandwiches and assembling hygiene packages to distribute to people in need. Day two formerly included a flag-football game and dinner for youth in order to to thank them for their service. Day three featured an adult flag-football tournament and food drive.
This year, COVID-19 restrictions will not allow for any flag-football, but Charles has not let that deter him or the youth from still providing their week of service.
“This year, instead of us being able to have our normal schedule, we’re completing three days of service, which is absolutely phenomenal,” Charles says. When speaking of this year’s event, Charles explains that the service was always his favorite part of the event, so not having football was an opportunity to expand volunteering and provide meals to additional communities in need.
In past years, the 1,000 meals and hygiene packages prepared by the youth were only distributed in Seattle. This year, Charles and partners were able to expand the meal and hygiene package distribution to serve people in Seattle, Federal Way, and Gig Harbor, with most meals and hygiene packages being delivered to Tiny House Villages. While they did not hit their goal of 1,000 packages, these youth were able to assemble 750 meal packages during a pandemic, which Charles tells me was “amazing.” Charles hopes that this new tradition of expanded service hours and adding new communities will continue in upcoming years.
The original Turkey Bowls that Charles remembers from his childhood were more adult- and teen-focused football games that also included people donating canned goods. When Charles decided to take over the old family tradition, he wanted to shift the focus to the youth. This included allowing youth to prepare meals and including an additional football game just for the young volunteers. His hope is that the youth participating now will continue this community service tradition in the future.
This year, Charles decided to interview youth volunteers on camera to ask about their favorite parts of the service week. He said it was heartwarming to hear the youth speak about how much they loved preparing the meals for those less fortunate than themselves, and he was humbled to see how eager they were to help in a pandemic year.
“That’s what it’s about,” Charles explains. “Long after I’m gone, these [kids] have the blueprint. they know how to make it happen. I believe that these are seeds being planted that will grow for generations.”
M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a South Seattle journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.
Featured image courtesy of Cortez Charles