Bird call: E. Bay activist leads Thanksgiving food drive

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Every year at this time, Dan McClosky raises a lot of money from the Bay Area Jewish community, and every penny of it is for the birds.

That is, tom turkeys and whole roasting chickens.

What began eight years ago as a small effort to bring Thanksgiving dinners to needy East Bay families has become a regionwide drive, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars. Last year, McClosky and his fellow volunteers raised more than $70,000 for local food banks, and he hopes to top that figure in 2007.

“I think we’ll raise $80,000 to $90,000,” McClosky said. “It feeds an awful lot of people, and it’s so easy to do this.”

How easy? This year more than a dozen synagogues have signed on, mailing appeal letters to their congregants. Unlike High Holy Day food drives, which require bringing groceries to the synagogue, the Holiday Dinner Drive is as easy as writing a check. And people have responded.

Beneficiaries include the Contra Costa Food Bank, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, the San Francisco Food Bank and Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

“This drive is so important to our work,” said Barbara Darrow-Blake, director of development for the Alameda County Community Food Bank. “The need is increasing. We’ve seen calls to our emergency food help line nearly double over last year. Dan McClosky picked up the baton in terms of reaching out to synagogues and other Jewish organizations.”

Synagogues participating in the holiday drive this year include Beth Chaim Congregation (San Ramon); Temple Sinai (Oakland); Temple Beth Abraham (Oakland); Temple Beth Sholom (San Leandro); Temple Isaiah (Lafayette); Congregation Beth El (Berkeley); Kehilla Community Synagogue (Piedmont); Temple Israel (Alameda); Congregation Emanu-El (S.F.); Congregation Beth Emek (Pleasanton); Congregation B’nai Shalom (Walnut Creek); Temple Beth Torah (Fremont); Beth Jacob Congregation (Oakland); Congregation Beth Am (Los Altos Hills); and Congregation Kol Emeth (Palo Alto).

McClosky first came up with the idea for the holiday drive nearly 10 years ago after reading a newspaper article about turkey shortages at local food banks. Appealing to friends, he raised $550 and used the money to buy 55 turkeys.

“The next year I discussed it with the Temple Sinai Brotherhood,” McClosky recalled, “and they said ‘Let’s do a mailing to everybody.’ We raised about $13,000 in 1999.”

New synagogues signed on each year, with the annual take increasing as well.

“The financial contributions are invaluable because we are able to leverage our purchase power,” Darrow-Blake added. “For us, with each dollar we can provide three meals. That meant almost 150,000 [Thanksgiving] meals last year.”

For McClosky, it’s all about making a contribution.

“It bothers me to see homeless people,” he said. “It bothers me that people in this country, with all its wealth, can go hungry. I don’t like to see the food banks not be able to meet those needs. There’s not a lot I can do on the street to help people. So this is my way to say I’m doing something.”

If you would like to see your congregation take part in the annualHoliday Dinner Drive, contact Dan McClosky at [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.