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OPERATION GIVE BIRDS: A Craigslist prank turned into 800 Thanksgiving meals

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL)- Even if this Thanksgiving will not be the celebration we are all used to, there is still plenty to be thankful for.

For hundreds of Cedar Rapids families, it is a free Thanksgiving meal to put on the table.

For the fourth year in a row, the Iowa Giving Crew held its "Operation Give Birds" in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City Sunday. The group passed out 800 Thanksgiving meals to families who need them.

The group partnered with Hyvee to purchase the turkeys, stuffing, potatoes vegetables, and all the fixings.

It all started after Austin Hermsen said his friend pulled a harmless prank on him in 2017.

"Someone put my name and phone number on Craigslist and said I was giving away free turkeys," he said. "My phone kind of blew up, and we decided to do something that year to help those people out, and it has just grown from there."

Before the doors even opened Sunday morning, a line of cars waiting for meals was already down the block. Hermsen said the number of families in need of Thanksgiving meals has grown over the years. The setbacks and turbulence of 2020 has sent demand skyrocketing.

"In the Cedar Rapids area, not only is everyone dealing with COVID but everyone is dealing with the derecho and the aftermath of that," he said. "There is a huge need that hopefully, we can fill for some people."

It's exactly what Iowa Giving Crew President Nick Dusil said the group is all about. He said the group's mission is to fill the gaps in society and help people out however they can.

The group hoped to provide some normalcy for a holiday that is shaping up to be anything but.

"The need has increased this year because a lot of people aren't traveling or getting together with family members," Dusil said. "I think having the normalcy during Thanksgiving to have a meal will mean a lot to people."

Over the years, both the operation and demand from the community has grown in size but so has something else.

"People seem to be more grateful than in other years," Hermsen said.

It's a reminder that there are always things to be thankful for, even in a year full of bumps and bruises.

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Daniel Perreault

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