Photo depicting a youth volunteer assembling a turkey sandwich in a community kitchen.

Football, Fun, and Helping Those in Need Highlight Turkey Bowl Week of Service

by M. Anthony Davis


This week is the seventh annual Turkey Bowl Week of Service, and Cortez Charles is back with his team of youth volunteers to build on this prominent Rainier Beach tradition. The Turkey Bowl is an annual, youth-led flag-football game and service event. The football game was cancelled last year due to COVID-19 so the event pivoted toward three days of community service, and local youth helped package and distribute nearly 1,000 hygiene kits and turkey-sandwich lunches to community members in need.

“The original Turkey Bowl Week is back and in full effect,” Charles says about this year’s event, which will be held Nov. 21–25 between Rainier Beach Community Center and Rainier Beach High School. On Nov. 24, in addition to the annual youth flag-football game, there will be a community dinner hosted by food trucks. 

Charles was excited to announce the return of the annual flag-football games and eager to announce the event’s expansion. 

Photo depicting youth football players gathered in prayer before a game on a football field.
Turkey Bowl players pray before the start of the 2018 Turkey Bowl tournament held at Rainier Beach High School. (Photo: Susan Fried)

This year, youth in south King County are hosting a day of service at Renton High School on Nov. 23 and those youth will also participate in the flag-football game at Rainier Beach. Charles has also partnered with Marvin Marshall, director of Violence Prevention Programs with the YMCA Social Impact Center, to bring the Turkey Bowl Week of Service to West Seattle.

“I’ve been aware of the Turkey Bowl for some years now,” Marshall says. “We’ve also participated in different capacities, whether it be showing up on service day to support or encouraging our young people to be a part of the Turkey Bowl. We talked about expanding it for quite some time, and that was always the vision to be able to take the model of the Turkey Bowl and to replicate it in other parts of the community.”

Marshall has worked with Cortez to replicate South Seattle’s annual Turkey Bowl in West Seattle. On Nov. 23, there will be a service day at High Point Neighborhood House that will include a community feed, turkey-sandwich and hygiene kits for the unhoused, and a winter coat drive. On Nov. 24, there will be a youth flag-football game in High Point. 

Not only has the event expanded to Renton and West Seattle, it also now includes turkey-sandwich and hygiene kit deliveries to tiny house villages, unhoused encampments, and community centers in the Central District, Federal Way, Georgetown, Skyway, and Downtown. 

“This year, our goal is to do 3,000 turkey sandwiches and 2,000 hygiene and warming kits,” Charles says. “And we’re definitely going to hit that number. We’ve come together with several community partners that have contributed to helping us meet our goals … Man, it’s just amazing.”

Photo depicting a group of youth volunteers gathered together with kits to deliver.
Turkey Bowl Week of Service volunteers deliver turkey sandwiches to Othello Village residents in November of 2018. (Photo: Susan Fried)

With this success, Charles is focused on increasing his efforts in the coming years. His plan, along with community partners like Marshall, is to have the Turkey Bowl Week of Service throughout communities in Washington and to eventually bring a tradition born in South Seattle to other states. 

“It’s really crazy to be thinking about this, and then to see it happening,” says Charles. “Every community deserves to be a part of this tradition and to be a part of this history. So, the big picture is to teach young people and adults what it looks like to serve somebody other than themselves, and grasp this [event] as a habit that’s embedded in the community throughout the year.”


M. Anthony Davis (Mike Davis) is a local journalist covering arts, culture, and sports.

📸 Featured Image: A young volunteer prepares turkey sandwiches to give away to families at Othello Village during the 2018 Turkey Bowl Week of Service. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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