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CHAMPAIGN — It started seven years ago with about 100 turkeys and a desire to help those in need.

Thousands of birds — and full bellies — later, A+ Service Group and Healing House Worship Center are still going strong with their annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway.

This year’s goal: to donate 500 turkeys at the corner of Springfield Avenue and Kenwood Road in Champaign starting at 1:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve.

“The smiles are priceless,” organizer Dominique White said. “Being able to shake hands and meet different people, I’m taken aback by it. I’m grateful, myself, (to) just to be a part of it. It’s all a blessing, man.”

White and company aren’t particular about who gets a turkey; they’ll park a U-Haul truck in the lot outside BW Mart next Wednesday and present anyone who wants a turkey with a fowl of their own.

Gobs of gobblers were sourced from local grocers as organizers distributed roughly 300 turkeys in 2021.

“We go to every store and we just kind of buy every store out,” White said. “Based on how many they’ve got, we kind of tell different grocery stores what we’ve got going on and they’re glad to kind of partner with us to do that.”

White — a Champaign native who played college basketball at Fresno State and Texas Southern — has picked up additional fundraising for the event from local companies and contacts made along the way.

Prospect Bank has been a longtime supporter of these outreach missions, as has Peoria native and former NBA player Shaun Livingston.

“It’s just a community effort,” said Melinda White, a pastor at Healing House. “I’m seeing that happening more and more. It wasn’t so much when I was raising my children, I didn’t see a lot of it, (there) wasn’t a lot of extra or outside stuff that I could tap into. So I’m just really grateful to be a part of this.”

The mission is one of several giveaways that White helps coordinate throughout the year; school supply drives and Christmas present giveaways are other community events that he plays a role in.

Once folks across Champaign-Urbana are presented with poultry, he’ll focus his attention on a Christmas dinner and gift drive that will sponsor a handful of families.

“Maybe you want to do something nice for a family during Christmas time; we normally sponsor a dinner, whether it’s (at) Jupiter’s or somewhere downtown,” said White, who starred at Urbana High. “We’ll come have dinner with the family, get to know them a little bit and we’ll shower them with gifts as well.”

Healing House plays a large role in the projects throughout the year.

“It feels good to be able to help people and to see the smiles on their faces,” Melinda White said. “As the Bible says, it’s more blessed to give than it is to receive, and I’m just so thankful that I’m included in it, just to be able to help someone.”

When the ministry was located at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, it hosted a food pantry, complete with a hot-chocolate stand that provided passers-by with warm cups of cocoa.

It didn’t take long for the pantry’s items to find their way to those in need.

“Anybody that passed by and just wanted something to drink, we would give it to them,” Melinda White said. “We let them know that we have care packages, we have food for giveaways and we would help people that would come, we would let them come into our church and go into the pantry area (and) take as much as they wanted.”

Donations for the turkey giveaway can be sent to 217-418-3516 on Zelle, to $aplusmechanicalsllc on Cash App and michelle-carr-4 on Venmo.

Those interested can even donate turkeys of their own by dropping them off at the site Wednesday.

“Bring a turkey or two out, hand it out to somebody, shake a hand (and) just get to know someone else during this time,” Dominique White said. “I think that this could be something that could get bigger and bigger and serve this community for years to come.”

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